Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

Trusting the Library to Provide an Objective Voice

Welcome to Notes of a Binge Thinker, September Edition!   

It is that time again to look at the guidepost for the Library of the Future, ebooks and other news here at North Texas Library Partners.  Let’s start with the guideposts. 

The Library of the Future increases the overall value of its community by:

Guidepost 1: facilitating access to education as a service to the public.

Guidepost 2: staying aware of current interests within the community, finding information relevant to those interests, and making that information publicly available.

Guidepost 3: ensuring easy public access to information in all its forms.

Guidepost 4: encouraging civic participation through public information campaigns that explain matters of public policy, informing public decisions, and maintaining awareness of public services (including its own services).

Guidepost 5: maintaining its standing of public trust by operating as an independent “third voice” in its operations as well as its communications, and meeting on neutral ground.

Each month I will focus on one guidepost.  I will highlight a library (or libraries) that I feel is following that guidepost closely and doing something innovative to make the guidepost a reality.  I will then give some benchmarks (examples of what libraries can do to follow the guidepost) that the NTLP staff has developed.

This month I am focusing on guidepost number five which looks at how the library can retain its independence to give the community a neutral ground, and offer an objective “voice” to the many different opinions out there. 

My library of choice this column is Benbrook Library District.  Benbrook is funded through a library district and is led by Michael Baldwin, a strong supporter of this month’s guidepost.  He has emphasized the idea of the library being a place communities can rely on to provide objective information not slanted towards one side of the spectrum.  He is a co-creator of Libraries for Democracy (I am the other co-creator), which focuses on helping libraries to provide objective programming and services to their communities and serve the role of a democracy center for their communities. 

Mike makes a point of emphasizing the library as a neutral voice in the community.  He told me in an interview what he sees as the role of the library when it comes to being the objective voice. 

“I think the role of the library is to provide factual information.  You are not really neutral if one side is providing biased information and another side is providing factual information.  We provide factual information to people and that is the main thing we strive for…we provide exhibits that show statistics and other types of information about politics and about economics that probably some people of particular political persuasions would object to, but it is factual information.” 

One program Mike has just started is centered on Constitution Day, where the library will hold events focusing on the constitution and then discuss the document among community members.  He plans to show a film focused on the constitution as well.  Mike pointed out to me that he gears his programming towards being a neutral gathering place for individuals to come together to network and share.  For example, his library has programs on poetry, organic gardening, book discussions and even a game night for people to get together to play old-fashioned board games.  His hope is that by bringing the community together in such settings, individuals will understand others more readily and be able to think more critically about issues affecting the community and the impact the issue has on all sectors of it. 

What does a library need to do to bring value to the organization when approaching this benchmark?  Mike believes, as I do, that libraries need to diversify their offerings and begin to emphasize programs and services outside of circulating popular materials, and providing traditional programs.  Mike told me that libraries are already known for providing books, DVDs, computers, storytime, etc.  In order for a library to realize value as an objective voice, the library must begin to focus their public relations campaigns on the more substantive programs like computer instruction, finding jobs or helping patrons learn to read.  Mike also warned that libraries need to be creative in their program design and promotion to better compete with other events going on in the community. 

Here are some additional ideas that my staff had about this guidepost. 

The most practical way for most public libraries to do something today is to focus on local history collections.  Political issues are less hot when we focus on how things used to be, and most public libraries are not in a position to manage controversies that impact election cycles. To ensure an independent voice, they will have to reach out beyond newspaper articles.

They will need to find and interview people in the community who were around at the time. Many of the people may not be regular library users and will need to be contacted and asked to contribute.  It helps to focus on “What was it like?” and “How did you make your choices?” style questions while avoiding “What were they like?” and “Why did they do that?” questions. Keeping the interviews focused on personal experience and away from speculation about others will expand the range of perspectives while decreasing the partisanship of the stories.

 

Also, the stories do not need to focus on major national events.  They should also cover broad topics like life in the 1950s.  Events of local significance like county fairs are another good focus.

Read the rest of the column

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Written by amwlkaw

September 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Misc

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