Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Myth of the Dying Library

Too many times in the past couple of years there have been calendars and magazine covers from various spots around the country touting sexy, hip, tattooed, and beer sipping librarians. Not to mention cute slogans for t-shirts that no one ever sees outside a library that say "I geek history". As if this translates into going to the library to find out more. Wearing this t-shirt only makes people read and dismiss the shirt with a shrug and "who cares" attitude. Marketing ideas that sadly miss the mark. Which makes librarians look like the whiny kids in a junior high lunch room who want to sit at the "cool kids" table. Seriously, is it any wonder why no one pays attention or takes our message to heart. Who cares if our image is the little lady with the bun, glasses and practical shoes. I'd much rather have that image then have the myth of the dying libraries being spread from community to community. Yes, another blog about why libraries matter in our communities. More importantly, why libraries will play an intergral role in the future.

First and foremost, librarians are true reformers in every sense of the word. Technology has not taken us out of the picture as it relates to providng information and services. Rather, eBooks, digital database and online access are all part of the library's arsenal to lead our patrons into the Digital Age. These nifty digital tools have allowed librarians to provide quality service, quickly and responsibly with the use of documented sources. It seems absurd that images of the card catalogs with three by five cards remain. Could this be due to the fact that many patrons have not been in a library since their school days twenty years ago? On the positive side, these patrons that are coming back to the place where they know inforamtion can be found. That is the library's brand, information.

The library has evolved over the centuries. Pharoahs and Kings considered libraries as signs of "wealth." Roman culture not only saw the value of literacy in the home, but they may have been the first to come up with the idea of a community centered library. In American history, Benjamin Franklin introduced the idea of a "subscription" library which later became known as the public library. These examples of the library's role in communities all point to a common theme: Information and sharing of ideas. The digital age has taken information and shairng ideas to a different playing field. It's all about access. Which leads to the next radical step for libraries. Owning and lending books is no longer the job of the library. Access from any computer, any time, any where is the key to the library's future. Many libraries have already begun to blaze a trail through the digital landscape. Which is good, but now is the time for a bolder vision.

Libraries of all shapes and sizes have performed the task of providing information and ideas by purchasing books, periodicals and videos for the community that they serve. Thus the materials belonged not to the libarry but to the community. The day is coming, where libraries will act as portals for information to flow through. Will there be a "need" to purchase and store books, videos or other sources of inforamtion? Not in the traditional sense. The storage will slowly but surely drift towards servers, databases and computers. In other words, libraries' computer networks will provide the "stoarge" for digital information for anyone who has a computer to tap into on a day to day basis. There will be no need for checking out items. One will simply download the inforamtion needed. Sharing documents and ideas can be effectively done through social media. Which begs the question, why would a library as a physical place to visit be needed? It is quite perceivable that the library will morph into a community center/park and recreation facility.

Librarians will have to face the challenges of becoming a leader in informantion searches and retrieval. There are many, budgeting for digital resources is high on the list. Now is the time to act quickly on securing private funding for the expensive upkeep of computers and digital tools. What every libarian must keep in mind is that in this ever changing world, there are two commodities that will always be useful, powerful and sought after: information and ideas. Libraries have the abilty to pocesses and use tools to secure these commodities. Its time to put the buidling blocks into place before every community begins to believe the myth of the dying library.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King's Dream

In 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have A dream" speech in Washington D.C.. It was, as it is now, a testament to the faith of King that one day America would set things right and that all people would be equal under the law. His words are preserved in history books, libraries and historical museums across this great land. On this day of observance of this man's remarkable life, it seems appropriate to share new dreams. Not to take away from this man's life work, which is impressive and perhaps can never be matched again, but to learn from his work in order to give librarians a bit of inspiration.

I have a dream that one day all libraries, in every city, whether large or small will be open for every child who seeks to read and learn. The threats of closing the library's doors forever will never be a threat that will cross the minds and hearts of any citizens.

I have a dream that literacy programs for children in the form of story hours, will never cease. Children of all races, all ages and all income levels should enjoy the benefits of early literacy activities.

I have a dream that libraries across the country will roll out more Bookmobiles to go where there are few opportunities for children to get to a library on their own.

I have a dream that schools will find funding for their school libraries to ensure that students receive a well rounded education that is made possible with the support of a media center.

I have a dream that libraries will never give up on fighting for the rights of every individual to have access to books, computers and lifelong learning.

This may seem a little over the top to those who do not work in a library or use their library often. After all one could point out that King's dream was of a higher calling then what one librarian dreams for the future. However, it can be argued that this little dream fits in well with what King hoped for over forty-nine years ago. King believed that everyone should have the same opportunities to succeed in this great land of ours. What better place to learn, to grow and to chase a dream then at the local library? Whether by reading fiction that stir the soul or self-education through non-fiction titles, the library offers the same opportunity to all to learn, read and grow. It was Lady Bird Johnson who said it best, "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest."

A salute to Martin Luther King and his lasting legacy of hope and equality. It has changed our nation for the better and it still inspires us today to reach for the very best within ourselves to be better than we can ever dream.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Final Chapter for Libraries?

In conversations among fellow librarians the topic often arises on whether there is any "life" left in our beloved institutions and professions. With Ebooks finally making a permanent mark right around the time that many libraries of all types are facing economic challenges does not boost morale among new and veteran librarians. Suffice it to say, everyone is trying to figure out if libraries will have a happy or tragic ending. One set of experts will gloat that the idea of the library is certainly outdated and outlived its usefulness. While another experts will point to the idea of a community "meeting" place as the library's new role. Both of these ideas are wrong. Why? They are based on false premises. If libraries continue to follow either one of these ideologies then surely the final chapter will be written.

Libraries are not outdated. If they were, there would not be a single computer in the building, library websites with 24/7 access would not exist and companies such as Overdrive would not have libraries as clients. It is quite amazing how many people fail to realize that the libraries have come into the 21st century and willing to face a bright digital future. Don't think this is true? Ask a librarian how many times a patron walks into the library and asks to see the card catalog because they haven't been in a library in over twenty years. Yes, they are talking about the old little drawers that held three by five cards organized by either title, author or subject. The surprised reactions of the patrons on finding what they need on a computer is quite amusing at times, but in reality it is a sad statement on the society. Libraries continue to miss the opportunity to boldly take their place in society. Which takes this discussion to the second theory built on faulty logic.

Libraries have always been places to share information and knowledge. To claim that libraries will make wonderful community centers in the future is similar to saying that libraries would make wonderful places to store books for anyone to use. This is a job that is being performed in libraries everywhere. What else is library programming then an attempt to bring everyone in the community together to learn together, read together and relax together. Name one library that does not offer a "educational" program that informs patron about a topic of local interest. Name one library that does not offer story time for little ones and their families. (Academic libraries don't count.) Finally, name one library that does not promote programs that involve entertainment and fun. This could be in the way of music or gaming. Face it the future of libraries as a community meeting place is already here. What hasn't happened yet, and the trend is beginning, the merging of park and recreation department, and senior centers into the library space. This is where libraries may lose their identity.

If both of ideologies are flawed, what is the solution for libraries' survival? To answer this question, one would have to believe that libraries are on life support. There is no doubt that this is the case since many changes are happening, it seems, at once. However, this is not prepping for a obituary for libraries in general. It is a step in trying to find the ailment and seeking a cure. For many, what hurts libraries the most is the damaging image as an outdated institution. As stated previously, this is FALSE. What hurts libraries the most is an inability to decide what direction to pursue for the future. Will libraries hang on to hard copies of books or dive completely into digital only? Can libraries provide services for every age group under the sun and still be able to manage to stay financially solvent? Are professional librarians with Master's degree on the way out because full time work is not available due to shrinking budgets? The answer to all of these questions can be summed up with one answer. To remain professional educators to the public, libraries must not settle for anything less than degreed full time librarians doing what they do better than anyone else in our society. Retrieve relevant and reliable information to the patrons. Forget the idea of a fun meeting place or being everything for everybody. It's time to get back to the roots of librarianship. That is providing reference services to all. If this can be accomplished,than the final chapter for libraries can hold off a bit. The best part of the story is just about to begin.