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."
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