Friday, September 17, 2010

What is a Library?

A library, according to many dictionary sources is described as a building which holds a collection of materials. A library may also be used in a computerized term where one has a library of music on a hard drive. Both definitions are true and yet they both point to the direction that libraries are heading. Access to the Internet has changed so much in how we retrieve, read and report information. No longer do readers fumble through card catalogs, indexes and microfilm tape in search of information. Now with a click or two, information is easier to find, to consume and share with anyone and everyone we know. This is a clear signal that the descriptions of a library in the future will be quite different from what we have known. As a matter of fact, the reach of the librarians will no longer be within the walls of the library or even within their community. An educated guess tells me, that librarians will have to adapt to working within social media networks to establish connections in new and exciting ways. We are boldly going where no librarians have gone before. Frankly, it's about time.

The advent of social media has changed the way people connect and communicate. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks offer the opportunity to state what is on your mind, get information out quickly and stay connected with people who share your interests or like what you do. For any community organization, this is a goldmine opportunity for free Public Relations. Why would anyone pass up that opportunity? Fear? No time? Waiting to see if this is a fad? The fact of the matter is that if we are afraid that new technology will bring more chaos into the library, chew up our time and be gone before we figured it all out then it is time to admit that our role in the communities we serve are no longer needed. However, this is not the case here, this is the opportunity we have been waiting for since the advent of the Internet.

For years libraries have had their identity stolen, or at least borrowed, by big chain bookstores. Walk into any Barnes and Noble and find that it is a clone of classic library space without the classification system. What they added were a cafe, comfortable chairs and occasional entertainment from authors or musicians. Nice. However, it doesn't replace what libraries have done for years and can continue to do so via social media, which is to guide patrons through the maze of information to select what is best suited for their needs. Bookstores can sell you books, toys, magazines but they are not experts in information retrieval. Librarians are the experts of knowing where to look, which sources are more reliable than others, and why one format is better to use than another. Social media will allow libraries to reclaim their identity as the information source. While the bookstores may have a presence online with their web pages, Twitter accounts and fan pages on Facebook, their physical buildings will be gone. They will be seen only in the virtual world. Don't think this is true? Consider the fact that the major book stores are promoting heavily electronic readers. Why? Easier to download a book than have a physical copy of it that would need to be shipped to their customers. However, in the case of the libraries, there is an opportunity to be the expert and provider of information in all formats. Variety is the spice of life!

While the need for bookstores as a physical building seems to becoming a reality of a bygone era, (and I could be wrong on this) the future of libraries in communities is becoming brighter every day. Why? Humans beings need and love interactions with other human beings. Libraries will be what they have always been for their patrons: the meeting place where people and information come together. Social media will make it all the more easier to connect to patrons and draw them into our libraries. At this point, libraries who fail to make waves on the social networks are doomed to the same fate of bookstores. They will be viewed as obsolete and fiscally draining on already burdened budgets. In other words, like dinosaurs, the libraries will be viewed as a great way to retrieve digital information to begin the search but refining it will be done by someone else. Our profession has changed much in just the past twenty years or so, and it is continuing to change to the point of if librarians don't keep up they will be left behind. There is always the chance that there will be mistakes now and then when working with new technology. Consider this: if we don't embrace it, learn from it, and become the facilitator to help others gain access, we will have effectively put ourselves out of the picture in every community. A library will always have four walls, maybe even bookshelves or stations where patrons can plug in their devices to download information, but the added bonus is that librarians are not confined by the walls. They can go to where the patrons are without taking a step out of the library. Hang on tight, it's going to be a bumpy ride but well worth it!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Teens Have Taught Me...

The past eleven or so years of my library career has been spent working with children. it has been a source of pride for me because I tell everyone that this is what keeps me young. On very few occasions do I feel truly old around the teens, and that's only when they tell me that my attitude is much in line with their moms and dads. Which in the whole scheme of things really isn't that harsh of a reality check. As much as I like to think that I have taught them something of value, I know deep down, they have taught me some very valuable lessons. Who says age has anything to do with being a teacher or sharing knowledge? I thought I would take the opportunity to share with everyone what the teens have taught me.

!. The more things change, the more the stay the same. Years have gone by since I was a young one in high school, yet when I overhear the conversations before the T.A.B. group meetings, the conversations haven't changed all that much. The girls talk about books, dances and boys. The boys talk about, cars, games, and girls. They make me smile, and realize that yes this is the generation that will be leading us soon but it is so nice to see them growing into their roles. They will make this world a better place.

2. Teens love to Share their opinions. Good golly do they ever. Everything from politics to sports to who will be kicked out on Big Brother. To write down all that they have to say would take years, but just like adults, everyone wants to have a chance to be heard. As adults in their lives, it is our responsibility to hear what it is they have to say and take it on face value.

3. Everyone wants a place to belong. This is what is so cool about the library. Everyone is welcomed. Whether you are a geek, athlete or straight A student everyone has a chance to explore, learn and grow at the library. Once in a while i will be listening to the radio's PSA ad that lectures on how teens need a place to go after school. It seems silly that everyone forgets that the best place to go is the library. It's a great hangout place. Which is why it is so important that libraries have the funding to not only keep the doors open but also to provide an alternate place for kids to call home. I love it when a teen plops down on the couch in the Youth area and starts to read. It's as if they own the place and that's okay with this librarian.

4. Out Of The Mouths Of Babes Comes Great Book Suggestions. Young Adults truly do have a way of seeing things differently than adults. The first cover of Pretty Little Liars made me think, "Great, another chick lit book! " Yet it was one of the TAB members that told me I had to read the book So did. Surprised was I that I actually not only liked the book but looked forward to the next books in the series. What drew the teen to the book? It wasn't the color scheme of the book jacket design, or the title itself. It was the premise of a not so ordinary mystery tale. Another case of not judging a book by it's cover!

5. Going with the flow. Teens have the spirit of spontaneity that adults have seem to lose when they get into the real world. At a recent teen book talk event at the library, I watched a teen describe a book in details with props. It was as if we were watching a one man play based on the book he choose to talk about. At one point I thought that perhaps I should stop the "performance" but decided not to because I saw how enthralled the others teens were and figured this is the time to go with the flow. The program ended a little bit late but the teens are still talking about how much fun they had that night. With the beginning of the school year just around the corner, these teens can become a walking PSA for the library to all their friends. Free advertisement! You can't beat that!

6. Never fear change or technology! Teens have taught me to embrace many new things that before I met them, I may not have tried on my own. Facebook, Myspace along with all the new gadgets did not thrill me when they first came on the scene. To be perfectly honest, the value of the 'new wave" looked more like wasting time than getting things accomplished. Boy was i wrong! This time, I'm glad I was wrong because now I see the potential of making the connection to not only my patrons but friends too! So with the teens help, I will boldly go where no librarian has dared to go before.

All these items individually, are wonderful but together they are the core to why teen advocacy is so important to libraries. Teens need libraries just as they need schools or hospitals. It's not just about educating or entertaining them. It's not even about giving them a safe place to hang our or an area that they belong. It's about providing for future leaders, parents and citizens who will one day understand the value of protecting their community by learning, growing and exploring together. The library is truly a portrait of a community. Invite the teens to be part of the portrait. They can teach others the same lessons they have taught this librarian.