Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Continuing The Discussion: Libraries and the Future

It seems that the future is on the minds of our profession. Could it be that it is the end of the year review when it is a good thing to step back to see what has been accomplished and what can be accomplished? That could very well be true. Perhaps more likely, it is due to the fact that libraries are feeling the pressure to "prove" themselves to the world. Let's face it, if the Internet didn't bury the library neither will e-readers. Is this a fact? Not yet, but time will prove again that the library survives if for nothing else the human race is in love with seeking knowledge. More importantly, the love a good story. Where is the best place to find that? Yes, the library. California State Library addressed the issue in a document that is designed to cultivate discussions about libraries future. In a publication entitled "The Emerging Story of California Public Libraries", , a storyboard depicts the path that libraries have taken. It is a very brief and quick overview that touches on the seven reasons why libraries matter. At the end of the document, the committee encourages readers to help them tell the bigger story. ( The story of the California libraries is shared by all libraries. It is what binds the profession together. While it is admirable that the California State Library too the initiative to begin the conversation, it has missed at least three reasons why libraries are relevant. Actually four if counting the fact that number one and three in their list are the same reasons only worded differently. Libraries have been the model for a place to learn, to read or just to relax. Bookstores chains like Borders and Barnes and Nobles try to duplicate the "library" look and were successful. They were so successful in fact that at one point librarians were beginning to wonder should bookstores be the "model" for libraries. (A bit like the dog chasing his own tail) Yet, even with the feel of the library, customers still checked out books, sought information from a reference librarian, and engaged in programs at the local libraries. In other words, attendance at libraries around the country did not dip. It remained steady. What became a concern were the take off of the e-readers. Libraries were not too sure if the e-readers where a fad like the PDA or if it were to take a firm hold on the market. It turned out to be the later, but once again library patrons demanded to be able to borrow books just as they have always done for years. Once again bookstores had to concede that there is no place quite like a library and it can not be replaced. The second reason for libraries relevance is that is has a proven track record. No matter the economy, no matter the culture libraries have proven time and again that they dependable in providing accurate, and documented information. Professional librarians are trained to know what sources are not only reliable in it's content but also in tracking down first and secondary sources. What makes libraries and the librarians who work in them even more valuable to the communities they serve is teaching the community how to be better library users. Libraries have always tried to adhere to the "ideal" that every side of the story should be considered when providing quality reference services. That is to say, libraries judge information based on the needs of the community and provides information supporting both sides of the issues whenever possible. All thought, one may disagree with an author's conclusion based on certain facts it does not constitute the removal of the book. As a matter of fact, libraries are the first to defend the First Amendment: The Freedom of Free Speech. Fourth, and this may seem simplistic, but libraries have been the symbol for years of a culture that has progressed. When a culture embraces knowledge and exploration, it spurs growth it spurs imagination and it certainly leads to the continue success of a culture. The future of the library is bright indeed. While discussing the future is important, it is also a time for action. It's time to get busy implementing all the wonderful changes that are in store for libraries. As an old saying goes, "there is no time like the present to work on tomorrow's dreams."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thinking Out Loud: The Library of the Future

On a Saturday afternoon most libraries are buzzing with activity. Children are exploring their areas and favorite books. Computers are constantly on and the printers are just as busy. Adults casually browse books or movies for something to with the family or for quite time. The scene as it is played out here is similar in every public library. It's a very nice scene but a nagging question keeps turning up like a bad penny, What happens when everything goes digital? Will citizens want or need to go to a library? To put it bluntly, how will the library survive? This is by no means a gloom and doom post. It is merely observing the changes that have come about in the past ten years, taking note at the technology of today and predicting what may become a reality ten years from now. For example, the iPod gave music lovers the ability to carry all their favorite tunes with them everywhere they went. The demise of audio cd was close at hand. Are they still used today? Absolutely, but iTunes has made purchasing and downloading painless. How long will physical audio CD be around? Hard to say but it would be a guess that it won't be much longer before children today will be telling their kids what a CD looked like and how it was used. Another example that pops to mind is the GPS systems that help drivers navigate their way through unfamiliar areas. Again, a tool that has made life simpler but has not destroyed all print formats of maps. At least not yet. Books too have become questionable in the next several years. Frankly, it is hard to believe that e-readers and tablets have made it at least conceivable that printed books are on the way out. So again the question remains how will the library survive? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to think about the needs of the typical public library patron. They need and want information as quickly as possible. Entertainment, whether it is reading, viewing or listening, is also important. They like to be self-reliant in retrieving their information yet on certain occasions when they've hit the proverbial brick wall, they seek the advice of a library professional. Put all of this together and it becomes a very interesting future indeed. Indulge these questions for just a moment: !. Will the "physical" library card be needed in or will it be a digital card? 2. When will publishers stop printing books switching totally to digital form? 3. When the majority of the library's collection is digital, will patrons still need or desire hard copy editions of books? 4. More importantly than questions one to three: Will patrons still come to library for their information or entertainment needs? These questions are quite loaded to be sure, However, they are important to explore. Taking on the library card issue, there will always be a need to issue a identification number for each patron in order to give them access to the library's resources The question here is whether the library card will be an e-reader encoded with the library's information and GPS given to patrons to use to download materials they desire. First reaction is that e-readers/tablets are very expensive. Yes, they are now but in five to ten years there could an economical e-reader produced just for the libraries purpose to buy in bulk and provide them to their patrons. Especially those who do not have the means of purchasing their own e-reader. Books are still be printed today obviously, but go to any bookstore and check out their inventory on display. Just as with the library, there is a mix array of books in the traditional forms, e-readers and the accessories that go with it, games, toys, and stationary products. The book areas are getting smaller due to the fact that technology is claiming more space. This is especially true in the libraries. At the moment the collection development budgets of most libraries are split down the middle to pay for databases, subscription to services like Overdrive, and printed books. It won't be long before the printed book budgets will be smaller due to the lack of printed books to buy. This lumps in to what the patrons will desire. Sales of e-readers are increasing, not decreasing. Sales of printed books, are not on a decline at the moment but as more readers get comfortable reading digital books, will they still want the printed. Think of the die hard vinyl record fans. There are those who claim they would never go to a CD, the music didn't sound the same. That's true, it didn't sound the same, it was better. Once audio CD were accepted, the rest is history. There will be those who will cling to the pages and hardcover books, and to be sure there are plenty of them out there. (Myself included) As time rolls on, even the diehard fans of books will be looking at e-readers as an acceptable evolution of the written word. If everything becomes digital, it may be a harder sell to get patrons into the door. This is where library programming will have to become the top service they provide. Storytime, book clubs, discussion groups and other programming will be the only reason why the community will come together at the library. In essence, the library will become a social gathering place. However, that is not as bad as it may seem. Books and stories have always had the ability to bring people together and libraries will always be the conduit for authors to get their message out. No doubt that the staffing of libraries will be greatly effected by the change. This is not the time to fret over what's the come. This is the time to plan to make the future what librarians' envision it to be in order to serve future patrons. If the profession as a whole ignores the planning process, and goes along with the flow then surely the libraries will fall into the pages of history as a really wonderful place that use to be there for everyone. For the librarians, who are not afraid of what the future holds, than this is the time to plan. Whether you are in a position of leadership or not, the moment is ours to carve out the future and make it a good one. Think of it this way, future library lovers are depending on this generation of librarians to bravely go where no librarian has gone before. The devoted library patrons deserve no less than the very best planning now for the future.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Education and Politics: Keeping Communications Open

The political season is over for a while. The President has gained another four years to add to his resume and to continue with his policies. It is always a "mixed" feelings for librarians around this time of year. The support of one candidate over another is usually toned down in front of patron due to the fact that librarians are to be neutral and not offend their fellow citizens who support the library with tax dollars. However, this is not always easy to do. Librarians and library advocates must become politically involved now more than ever. If for no other reason to protect their libraries from budget cuts that seem to lurk about when the economy is bad and even in some cases when they are good. It's a harsh reality that libraries live and die by the "support" they receive from the community. The very first place to go for that support is city officials state representatives and anyone in government positions who can aid the library when times are lean. Many politicians, if not all will claim that education and libraries are very important to the community when campaigning. However once they are in office, excuses are made at every turn why there is a lack of support and interest in the libraries. Perhaps its because politicians lump libraries in with the schools and education. (That is the case in Michigan, where they are an agency of the Department of Education) This is well and good in some ways but it fails to see the unique roll public libraries have in communities. The challenge for library advocates is to be "heard and seen" by elected officials throughout the year. Even when it's not time to go "vote." There are state library associations that are very good at connecting legislators with the profession. Typically there is a library "legislative" day when the two sides come together to talk about the issues and concerns of libraries. This is a wonderful event and idea. This is where the conversations start but it should be by no means where it ends. Library advocates should not miss the chance to invite local officials to the library to see first hand the great programs and services libraries provide to their constituents. This is where the conversation not only continues but turns into a lesson of what makes a library important to the community. Why libraries are the life-lines for so many users? Why legislators should look to libraries as the place to keep the community thriving. Officials just like the citizens need to be educated on what the library does and how they serve the public. This is not a one time lesson to be learned. it actually a lesson that needs to be repeated and expended over the years. If libraries are fortunate there will be those who not only remember the lessons but will pass on what they have learned to family and friends. This helps the library community tremendously. If the legislators to share what they know it's akin to striking gold in the library world. Taking baby steps is the best way to begin. Start the conversation, invite officials to the library and last never let them forget that the library exists. Give updates on what is happening at the library, show statistics on the great programs, let them know how businesses have been served and are supporting the library. Politicians, no matter the party love to hear good news from their area. Thy also want to share the news and in some cases take credit for it too. That's okay let them. If they feel that this will make them look good then it looks good for the library too. It would be a wonderful day when a Presidential candidate adds to his platforms that all libraries are protected by the U.S. Constitution and they will never close. There is no need to hold one's breath for that. It won't happen. Nor should it in many respects. However it couldn't hurt to have a law enforced that all communities, large or small, should have a library. Could it? Something to continue to strive for in the future.....

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Series Are Wonderful, But.....

There is so much that can be celebrated about books and reading in general. Stories written today are fast paced, feature interesting characters and plots that keep the reader begging for more. Librarians in general love this. After all, without great writers and their stories, the bookshelves would be bare. (That includes the virtual bookshelf too.) For every "great" idea there is a side effect that can be considered the "down" side of the idea. Yes, with all the wonderful authors there is a down side. Serials. It seems that this is all that publishers want to put out these days. Look at the children's books, Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and not to be forgotten, the one who may have started this crazy trend, Harry Potter. Adult titles have gone the same route with canned series from such authors as James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton. This blog may cause authors, librarians and avid readers alike to scream in unison that serials are good because they cultivate readers. While this fact is not being disputed, another viewpoint is being offered to be considered. To put it delicately, serials are to the mind what sitcoms are to the eyes. They are great for entertainment but eventually the excitement fades. From that point, everything is stale, from the plots, to the characters and to the style in which distinguishes the author's work. Rarely is there an author who can keep a readers attention with the same character and story line for an extended period. Many will point out that Evanovich's Stephanie Plum has managed to entertain her audience through eighteen stories, (Number nineteen will be out soon) and there does not seem to be an end in sight for Stephanie Plum. While this may be true, one has to ask themselves how long can Ms. Evanovich be able to keep things fresh and new? The publishers and the author may be hoping through number one hundred but it just doesn't seem "logical" that readers would hang around that long with one character. Series that must be read in order can deter a late-comer from picking up the series to begin with. Classic characters such as Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes never required the reader to begin with their first story in order to enjoy the series. All one had to do was to pick up one story and be introduced to the characters. It was simple, quick and a wonderful way to meet a new fictional friend. In modern serials, it almost feels as though the reader has made a contract with the series that they will be involved from book one all the way to the end. Can this be a stretch? An exaggeration? Yes. Should all libraries protest these series and ban them? Nope. As a cheerful capitalist once stated: the market will decide when the characters should fade into the reader's memory. Indeed that is true. Harsh reality but true none the less. So why complain about series when there really doesn't seem to be a great big problem? Consider this a plea to the publishing world and the authors who write wonderful novels, to create a nice balance of series and stand alone stories. There are readers who will follow a series just for guilty pleasure,(Try Vampirates, its a wonderful trot into a world that is unique and it is definitely a pleasure that will not make one feel guilty.) and that's a good thing. However, once in a while it would be wonderful if there is a story that entertains the reader with only two covers and the pages in between. Once the last page is turned, there should be a sense of closure. Series just don't provide that. In this hectic world of ours, sometimes a perfect ending is what a reader really needs and wants.