Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

Executive Director’s Column – December 2009

Happy Holidays!

This month, we are looking at whether a review is required to purchase an item for our collections.  This idea came about because so many individuals are taking alternate methods to get their works published.  Is this a sector of the publishing industry that we ignore because none of the established review publications are looking at these items?  Does a review really need to be part of the selection process?  We look at these questions closely with a podcast interviewing Carolyn Davidson Brewer about the topic and a guest column written by Kerry McGeath, director of the Southlake Public Library.

For my part, I want to devote my space this month to promote what I plan to do with my column in the calendar year 2010:  a discussion of the public library’s identity crisis.

After one of our regional meetings last month, I had a very interesting discussion with a library supporter from one of our more rural areas of the System.  He was relatively new to the library scene and he wanted to know what to expect from his public library in the next ten years.  He mentioned to me how much his public library had changed since he was a child from one of quiet reflection and study to one of an active bustling community gathering place.  He asked me point blank, “What is the role of the public library in the next decade?”

This same question came up with a conversation I had at the Gates Foundation Online Opportunity Summit I attended in November.  The library director and I had just heard a presentation about three different roles the public library has taken on in the last few years.  He was adamant that his community was not interested in the public library taking on any of the roles outlined in the presentation.  His community saw the public library as an entertainment and recreation location and he was positive his city and county would not want the library to do any more than this.  He told me, “We can’t take on all these roles.”

I mentioned to both of these gentlemen that I thought the public library has been going through an “identity crisis” since I became a librarian in the 1990s.  I think this identity crisis will continue into the next decade, but will come to a critical junction during the next ten years.    The public library is slowly evolving away from the identity it has had over the last 150 years.  We are going to have to ask ourselves some difficult questions about the library’s role in society over the next ten years as our communities evolve with the rapidly advancing information landscape.  Does it need to change?  Are we selling ourselves short by giving into the demands of our community?  Instead, do we need to do a better job of explaining our traditional roles and how much value they add to a community?

Starting with next month’s column, I will look closely at the role of the public library in the upcoming decade.  I will seek the wisdom of some of our leaders and strongest supporters.  I will look at the traditional roles the public library has played when it comes to providing for the informational, educational and recreational services.  In addition, I will look at some of the new roles libraries are adopting.  I will not have answers by the end of the year, but I hope the columns will spark discussions between my colleagues and help them to focus on the long range role of the public library in our society today.

Next month, I will start by looking at the role of the book in the public library.

Read the rest of the column.

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Written by amwlkaw

December 2, 2009 at 4:28 pm

One Response

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  1. Though we pay close attention to reviews when making purchasing decisions, there are times when no review exists for an item that needs to be added to the collection. Local history books often fall into the latter category, as do some other books on highly specialized topics. In those cases, we try to look at a copy before purchasing, or (in the case of non-fiction books) use the Amazon “Look Inside the Book” function.

    Jesse Ephraim

    December 9, 2009 at 4:13 pm


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