Friday, July 30, 2010

Universal Letter to the Editor Supporting Libraries

In my wildest dreams, advocacy was never part of my vocabulary due to images of activist from the 1960's. An activist or advocate was someone who held signs denouncing the ills of society. It did not ever occur to me that being an advocate for a cause was something I could do or would be take an active role. Who wants to spend days marching in front of public buildings to protest? Not this quiet librarian. However, as the old song goes, "the times are a changing." In these tough economic times, it is becoming apparent that libraries need an army of people who not only support them but will also take action to keep these institutions open. Recently, The Detroit Free Press published a portion of a letter I wrote in support of libraries facing mileages. Below, is the entire letter. This is the start of what is hoped to become a successful campaign for libraries in Michigan and across the United States. This librarian can no longer afford to be silent. Share this letter with friends, family and leaders in your community. The more people out in our communities spreading the word about libraries, the better!

Dear Editor:

The Michigan primary is just around the corner.  A very important time for our state and communities as the process begins to select the Gubernatorial candidates come this November.  In many communities across this great state, voters will also have to consider other matters such as a milage to support their local libraries.   Not to diminish the importance of selecting gubernatorial  candidate, but supporting local libraries is also important for the community and the state. No matter who becomes Governor of our great state, libraries will be needed.   In the past year alone, there have been one too many library closings due to lack of funding.  If Michigan is to be a leader in business, research, education and healthcare libraries must be the backbone of the community as a necessary support.   

In February 2010, EPIC MRA conducted a survey commissioned by The Library of Michigan and MEL to determine adult usage of the libraries in Michigan, it was revealed that 86% of the adults surveyed visit their local library on a weekly basis. The purpose of the visit ranged from internet access, homework to pleasure reading. Contrary to some public opinion, the library is vital to a thriving community. the argument that people will not need libraries in the future due to the ease of access through computers and digital downloads, is thoughtless as it is pointless. Consider in your own homes, how many books are on the shelves? If there is more than ten books on a shelf or a set of encyclopedia, is there still a need for a library? Of course! Libraries hold the keys to gathering information in print, digital and databases that are too expensive for a family to afford on their own. The futuristic library may be computerized but there will still be a need for professionals to instruct, assist and provide information through whatever available format.

In a perfect world, all of Michigan’s communities would have leaders who understood the importance of libraries and the services they provide. In reality,  libraries are fighting to stay open due to leaders looking for an easy fix to an economic situation. For some community leaders it is easier to thow away a valuable service than to stop to consider what will be lost.  What will be lost is the one place in a community where privacy matters, self-education begins and effective means of sharing resources and ideas come together.  It is democracy in action. 

On August 3rd voters will be make many decisions that will affect their lives. In the communities asking for a milage to support the libraries, think about the value that libraries bring to your community. Support candidates who understand the value of libraries, then support libraries by voting yes to the milage. Voting yes for libraries is a vote for a thriving, prosperous community for present and future generations.

Mrs. Nowc Librarian At Large

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Finally Understand The Lure of eBooks

It seems that everywhere online reports keep popping up that Amazon is selling more digital downloads than hardcover. First reaction, people have finally took the bait and are willing to see if digital is better. The question that is now begging for an answer is: Does this mean printed copies are on the way out? This debate has been going on for decades with no clear answers for the defense and the dismissal of the printed copy. Then the proverbial light bulb turned on and with it came the realization why eBooks are here to stay and perhaps die hard fans of books may have to give up the pages and ink.

If you are an avid reader the need for eBooks was not pressing. Why would we need an electronic device to do the same job that our hardcover and paperbacks have been doing for years. It is economically and efficient way of feeding our minds with information or imagination. Again why would we want to be bothered with downloads, memory chips and the list goes on and on. The art of reading has not changed in over 2,000 years. Why change it now? This is where the logic is fails. Ebooks are not changing the way we read, but they are changing the format and delivery of what we read. When books were first printed, they were expensive to produce. This meant they were not available to the general population. Which is one reason why most people could not read. With the advent of new technology, the printing press made it inexpensive to print and thus the written word was available to anyone who had the desire to read. Who can argue with that progress?

It now seems that modern readers are at a crossroads in history. Books are not on the way out tomorrow, but their usefulness is is being tested. Are eBooks here to stay? Yes, after all it is just a smaller, portable version of the desktop computer, and who now could live without their computer? There is a paradox here that worries this reader and librarian. Since the format is changing, the expense of reading has gone up a bit. When new technology hits the stores, the prices tend to be quite high. The Kindle is going for $189 while the iPad is going for about $499. Either way, its an expensive piece of technology that in these economic times, most can not afford the luxury of giving up that much income for a new computer. Add in the fact that one will not have a very fun time with their ebooks if they can't afford to download a copy. Where does this leave the economically challenged? Looking for the written word the old fashioned way: paper and ink. Is that such a bad thing? No. In our society, there has to be a level playing field for everyone to succeed. Reading is the tool that allows for everyone, rich or poor to find their own success, Which leads to libraries and why they are so important. No matter the format of reading, one constant should not change, libraries should be at the forefront to providing information for all. There will be a day in the not so distant future when eBooks will be inexpensive, making it affordable for everyone to clear out their bookshelves. Until then, the printed and electronic formats will have to coexist. However, in my personal library, there will be always be room for the printed books.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saving Our Libraries

Dealing with the dominoes effect in the current economic climate is very had to do, yet it is something that all libraries are dealing with in form or another. Either it’s facing budgets that target staffing, hours of operation , collection development, or all of the above. These times are nothing short of stressful, but it does not have to be bleak. There is nothing like a crisis that points out the obvious problems, which forces the hand to finally deal with it in a positive way. Recently on Twitter I read a post by an irritated library advocate that in Chicago the Fox Affiliate questioned the use of tax dollars to support libraries. Before we go knocking Fox News for presenting this lame piece of journalism for viewers consumption, why not admit that they are actually voicing an opinion that is becoming common among city board members? Is it not possible that taxpayers, who are voting down mileages are thinking the same way? The question remains what can librarians do to save libraries? Plenty, but first it is time to stop the exaggerated reports of our demise.

We are all fortunate to live in an age where communication is quick and hopefully to the point. Social media has opened up an entire new world of reaching out to new and old friends. This can be a good thing or in some cases bad in any case no one can deny that it is a new tool that should be used, and used often. Who can tell the stories of libraries better than librarians? Don't get me wrong, it would be silly not to use patrons support. Having said that, try an experiment in your library, or even with your own family ask them what is the purpose of the library? Don't be surprised if the answers are all the same: lend out books. This is where librarians need to begin educating society. Libraries are not just about books, they are about people.

Libraries hold more than just stories stored in books or in electronic forms, but the stories come from patrons who walk through the doors of the library on a daily basis. Some looking for work, some looking for story hours, and some still look for the poor man's university as Lincoln did in his day. Yes, libraries are timeless. So why the move to close them? One of the disadvantage to living in a capitalist based society is that the bottom line where it concerns dollars and cents are always important. Don't misunderstand, there is much good that comes from capitalism, such as entrepreneurship, (and libraries play a huge role there too) but when budgets are tight something has to be cut. Libraries must find a way to keep the ax from falling on their resources, or find their independence from government budgets to avoid the ax all together. Both routes require lots of work, yet working the two ideas together may be what saves libraries in the end.

The fist step is always hardest to take. As a community of professional leaders in libraries, it is important to recognize the first step and take it together. For those who are willing to be the advocate that libraries desperately need, it is important to work together to formulate our visions and ideas for libraries. It is a shame when others who have no idea of the value of a library define our profession and libraries for us. If this trend continues, surely libraries will fade away. For far too long, the bookstores have been redesigning themselves to be the libraries that everyone loved. In addition, there are multitudes of vendors who will sell the latest customer self-serve gadgets to libraries with the sales pitch that this is what library patrons want. The idea is out there that libraries our obsolete. It is up to us to prove that idea false and be the master of our own destiny. Perhaps it's time to form a non-profit group that does just that.