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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.
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