It’s been a challenging week. Both of my kids are sick and that means a serious lack of sleep. On top of that, my father-in-law and his wife visited us the first half of the week. That’s a good thing but there was no time to rest. But enough of the whining.
The real challenge for me this week was trying to stay positive professionally. I’m generally an optimistic guy who tries to see the good side of things. Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of libraries and it’s been depressing. I want libraries to succeed and thrive because I believe that we are the only institution of government that is truly open to everyone. We have the potential to assist every member of society regardless of age, gender or economics.
The thing that has gotten to me this week is the realization that our future is far from certain. I’m lucky to be in a county that values its libraries. Will that always be the case? How can I justify our existence to someone like this without sounding whiny and/or angry? What I need to do is work on my ‘elevator pitch‘ about the value of libraries. Maybe focus on:
- how the library is more than books
- we are about people
- helping them improve
- by helping individuals improve we are improving our communities
It’s a start. I’ll work on it.
The posts below have helped me this week. While I don’t think libraries are quaint I appreciate Cooley’s response. McGuire has given me a lot to think about and I’m still trying to sort out his post. I really like P.C. Sweeney and his optimism. Andy provides a funding option that I hadn’t really considered.
On to the reading:
The post isn’t nearly as good as the comments. There are lots of people defending libraries and getting mad at Mr. Cooley but his response is very interesting. The part that hit me the hardest was his take on the library brand. Here’s the entire quote:
Brand: Libraries, first and foremost, have a major brand issue. They span physical books, digital books, public search, proprietary search, research assistance, career counseling, literacy development, computer skills training, free internet access, movies, games, lectures, reading groups of various demos, community forums, book sales and more. Sliced another way they offer news, history, data, entertainment, elder services, children’s’ services, entertainment, training and more. Either way, it’s a broad offer best summed up as “making society better”. Unfortunately, like “saving the environment” you get more lip service than traction from consumers on that one. (re)Focus your brand as an industry and good things will happen.)
Short version: we’re doing too much to do anything well.
Hugh McGuire has written a great post at In the Library With the Lead Pipe (which is a very good site for library ideas, theory and philosophy) about what libraries are for. He raises many good points and questions but basically it boils down to this: our business model is changing and we need to change with it. The value of a library as place full of books for people to check out will decline and we should start focusing on the other things that make us important to our communities if we are going to be funded and relevant in the future. I think this quote is beautiful:
A world of ubiquitous free or near-free ebooks is coming, in 5 or 10 or 20 years. And when that happens, a library that defines itself as “a place where you can get free or near-free books” will no longer be an institution providing a service deemed important enough to be maintained by its community. But libraries have never been solely about free books. They are about something deeper, about information, about access to knowledge, about providing a public space where citizens can interact with each other, all within the context of an exchange of knowledge. Libraries are at the core of our understanding of civilization, and if we are to keep them healthy, we’ll have to make sure that they continue to answer deep needs in our society, rather than provide particular services because they’ve always done so.
I like this post and have been thinking about it most of the week. Sweeney also thinks libraries are changing but the core service of libraries doesn’t have to.
What I’m saying here in a round and about way, is that we need to continue what libraries have always been, and that is to be enablers to those who want to learn and provide the resources that enable our communities to learn. It’s not reference, its enabling our patrons to live more fulfilling lives. After all… By answering reference questions wasn’t that the real goal anyway?
Andy always writes thought provoking posts and this one isn’t any different. He proposes that libraries be open to the idea of corporate sponsorship. I’m not against this idea. I actually think it could work in some cases. Would it fly here? I doubt it.