Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

Library’s role as the great equalizer. The library’s greatest value-add?

Happy March!

This month, our website’s theme takes on a technology slant as we compare Microsoft Office, Open Office and Google Docs.  For our podcast, Carolyn Brewer discusses the three applications and what three local techies use in their own lives.  For our guest column this month, we have reprinted a blog post from Ken Stewart, owner of the blog Changeforge, a blog looking at the intersection of business and technology.  His blog post asks the simple question, “Why do you still use Microsoft?”

For my identity crisis series, I focused on the library’s role as the great equalizer.  The library’s greatest value-add?  Just as a reminder, I am focusing on the role of the public library in the next decade.  Each month I tackle a different role the library plays and how it might change.

As I have done in the past months, I sent a series of questions to some of my favorite listservs to ask for input on how the role of the library as the great equalizer will change in the future.

“If the library doesn’t fill this role, it won’t be filled.” Judy Daniluk wrote in response to my questions.  Judy is NTLP’s technology consultant  “Private enterprise won’t provide services unless there’s a profit advantage, so they won’t offer services to populations that can’t pay or geographical areas that are costly to reach.  For services that our society considers essential, tax dollars and government support have to help reach these populations and areas.   That’s why the government subsidizes telephone service to remote and that’s why they’re trying to improve broadband coverage.”

Is this role the most important one a library can play in a community?  Most of the responses I received said it was an important role, but just one of them.  “I think that depends on the community. In Coppell which is a fairly affluent community, I do not think it’s our greatest role.  One that I like to tout here is the library is a “community gathering place”.  Folks seem to get the “support of the curriculum”, popular reading etc., but this community likes to visit. We have many new arrivals – primarily from Asia and the Subcontinent. They are big library users.” Kathy Edwards, Director of the Coppell Public Library wrote to me.

Lara Strother, Director of the Lake Worth Public Library, did believe this was the greatest value a library can bring to a community.  “I think so, yes.  Who else can do what we do with a smile and for free?”  She wrote to me and continued about how the profession needs to be prepared, “We just need to continue to think in terms of what does MY community need?  There’s definitely a big picture view when it comes to the future of our profession, but there’s also a small picture view that I think matters even more.  I feel connected to the people who visit my library, and I come to work everyday to meet their needs.  What I’m trying to say is, I feel it’s important to be involved with my own personal community of library users, both within the library and without.  There is no other way to prepare for changes”

When it comes to how do you balance services between the “haves” and the “have-nots”   Many of the responses focused on providing services that appeal to both sectors.  At the same time, there seemed to be an understanding among the responders that some library services just won’t appeal to everyone so you have to match the needs of the various sectors of your community.  “I also see libraries as a whole providing more for all segments of society.  Attracting the “haves” to the library is always going to be a challenge – they can buy the book (and then donate it to the library), they go see the movie, rent it from the nearby video store or download it from the internet to their TV or computer.  But, we also offer a chance to talk with others who also enjoy reading a book, or discussing a movie.  People are social creatures and that is another aspect libraries can offer to people – a place to visit with others.  I suspect that most of the moms that attend story-times do so more as a chance to meet other moms than for the child to become a better reader.”  Donna Pierce, director of the Krum Public Library wrote to me in an email.

From my standpoint, I think libraries will need to continue to keep this role high on the priority list, but, as Donna wrote, make a concentrated effort to attract the “haves” to the library.  I also want to mirror the overall theme I have heard throughout this Identity Crisis series.  Libraries need to more flexible in meeting the needs of their communities.  One of the workshops I hope that we will be able to offer in the near future is on change management.  How can a library change to meet the needs of a community when it is faced with both political and procedural barriers?  I do not hear much discussion on this subject among librarians and I feel it is important for libraries to begin to explore how they can change effectively.

Next month, I will look at, Where have all the newspapers gone?

Read the rest of my column…

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Written by amwlkaw

March 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Misc

3 Responses

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  1. I want to respond to Lara Strother’s comments about the library being free. In this era of concern about taxes, I think it’s important to point out to people that the library isn’t free. It’s paid for by tax dollars and the benefits are then shared. It’s a great example to use, when people complain about the “path to socialism” that they think we are on, that we already take advantage of “socialist” things, like the library and the fire department and the police, etc.

    Cindy Appleby

    March 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm

  2. Congratulations. Your blog has been nominated for our Library Blog Awards. In fact, your blog was suggested more than once. We’re in the process of assembling information about all those nominated and will be sending a short questionaire, including the categories of awards and the judges involved. Would you please send me your email address so that I can send you the questionaire? If your email is on your blog, I couldn’t locate it.

    Thanks in advance,
    Peter W Tobey
    ptobey@salempress.com

    Peter W Tobey

    March 7, 2010 at 9:02 am

  3. Thanks for the content.

    Equalizers

    August 9, 2010 at 12:13 am


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