What is a Public Library?

Via Via Bobbi Newman's Librarian by Day , the answer to to question above (parodying the iPad commercial):


As clever and well done as this is, it feels kind of defensive. We have to stop trying to get people to maintain behaviours that no longer are their optimal choices. Stop trying to sell ourselves on our buildings and books and start selling ourselves on the one truly unique attribute that we have; the ability to evaluate information.

Libraries have never been about information; they've always been about access. The opportunity for libraries isn't that there's too much access but that there's too much information.

So stop promoting all the stuff that's becoming irrelevant; information and location are too limiting. People don't even need our buildings anymore and they don't want to have to go somewhere just to get information. (I know we all hear the contrary everyday but that's from the people who are using us; not the ones that have stopped).

As I reread this, it seems pretty vituperative so let me add some explanation.

I'm thinking from the perspective of outsiders - the people who aren't using libraries today. They wouldn't matter if we were facing the challenges that we are today, but we are and so, they do.

The services that we provide are invaluable but that's almost one of our challenges; they can be very difficult to put a value on and because of that, the old perception that devalues libraries lingers in non-users' minds. If they don't understand us, they won't value us.

We need to find messages that get past the established and very limited view of libraries that non-library customers have, from 'a building with books' to a core social service that plays a major role in not just enriching, but advancing, the community.

People now expect to get information on their own terms, when and where they want it. It doesn't mean that we don't need an actual building, but the idea of the library as a place changes. We address this in two ways; with a comfortable physical environment that's very different from traditional library design, and through the work that's done outside of the building when we take library services to the community.

I suppose the bottom line is that if people really knew all of the work, all of the programs, all of the services offered by libraries, then the pressures that libraries are facing would be gone.

Libraries care deeply about their community which is why so many, many libraries are working very hard to innovate and adapt.

Hopefully we'll figure out soon which messages convey that and how to get them out.

Subscribe to Comments for "What is a Public Library?"