Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wayback Wednesday: Looking at the future of libraries [Important for New Yorkers]

The timing of Seth Godin's blog post about libraries on Monday was fortuitous because Monday I was part of a discussion on that topic at the Regents Cultural Education Committee in Albany, NY.  There are indeed many discussions occurring on what libraries will or should be in the future.  Even though there is no agreement, all of the discussions are very necessary so we can get every idea and every option out on the table.

To that end, the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries began last year to solicit input in order to "develop and recommend to the Board [of Regents] a 2020 vision for library services and an innovative plan for ensuring the greatest access to information for all New Yorkers."  Our public work on this began at the NYLA conference last November.  This spring, we asked people to repond to 10 questions and nearly 100 responses were received from individuals and organizations.  A timeline has been developed for seeking additional input and then developing a draft - and final - plan.  While we will keep the Regents in the loop along the way, we have promised to have our final plan to them by May 2012 and ready for their approval.  All of this work is in an effort to update the statewide plan developed in 2000.

On Monday, Norm Jacknis, John Hammond, Sara Kelly Johns, John Monihan, Mary Mary Muller, Louise Sherby, Jerry Nichols and I met with Regents Tilles and Dawson (chair and past chair of the Cultural Education Committee) and Regents Cea, Norwood and Cottrell, who are not part of the committee but who were compelled by the topic to attend the meeting. (As is often the case, there was a competing meeting, which some CE committee members needed to attend.) While it is clear that the Regents are interested in a positive future for our libraries, it seems - to me - that the articulation of that future needs to place libraries firmly and obviously in context with the other educational activities (and changes) occurring in the state.  While you may think that this is obvious already, then consider that the connections need to be blatantly obvious not only to the Regents but to all of the other stakeholders (including members of the education and business communities). 

As they have in the past, the Regents connected libraries in the discussion to other cultural heritage and educational organizations, as well as other cultural activities.  Like us, they don't see libraries as standalone entities.  They do want those connections to be meaningful and visible.  It is as if they are throwing their arms wide open and (in their best Southern drawl) saying "y'all".  Recognizing that libraries are entwined in their communities with other organizations, etc., the Regents have asked that we solicit input for the 2020 vision from a wider cross-section of people and we'll do that.

Seth GodinBack to Seth Godin, who is fueling a public and heated discussion on libraries.  This time, people are agreeing with him, but some don't agree totally with him.  Allow me to pull some highlights from his blog post.  Godin wrote:
A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.
He then spent a lot of time talking about books, which makes me wonder if he understands what libraries actually do.  But then he  wrote:
The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information.
The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.
Thankfully, Godin ends up advocating the type of libraries that we all want.

As you ponder about Godin's blog post and the future of libraries, here are excerpts from some of our colleagues:

Whether it's a library, museum, shop, or government office, it's the people who work there that create a connection to the information and value of the institution, one person at a time.
Bobbi Newman:
We ARE fighting for the future of the librarian as a producer, concierge, connector, teach and impresario, but we know to do that we need books. We need the information contained in those books, so we DO need “clever ebook lending solutions”. Information is not free, it costs. One of the many roles of the public library is to ensure that all people have access to that information.
Nancy Dowd:
I know many of you may feel we are already doing these things. We’ve been calling libraries community centers and offering tech support and classes, but I think Seth is calling for a new mindset. He isn’t asking us to improve what we are doing, he is suggesting that we need to change the core thinking of what we do, re-imagine the core purpose of why libraries exist. Revamp our perceptions from “people should” to “people are” by accepting that the changes in technology are changing the needs of people. It isn’t that we need to add a tech center, it’s that we need to change our mindset. Don’t be disappointed that people aren’t reading; embrace communication as a fluid process that encompasses all mediums- print, visual, auditory. People are free to use whatever medium they chooses to use to communicate the ideas. Don’t be worried that people aren’t using the “best” resources; understand that information needs are relevant to the solutions people are seeking. Don’t defend the need to remain the way we are because we must provide internet access or books to the poor, look beyond to see a world where connections are the commodities that people will need to succeed. 
Buffy Hamilton:
My takeaway from Godin’s post is that we may not all agree on the details, but the value of these kinds of posts is that they can initiate and sustain conversations about how we can better improve the work we do and the roles we play in better helping our communities. 
Diane Cordell:
Change is not only an option, change is an imperative. Don't just get your feathers ruffled: inquire, assess, learn, adapt. Evolve.
Wayback Wednesday posts are meant to surface information from previous blog posts in order to keep that content alive.  This one, however, is a reminder that this topic is not new to Digitization 101.  Related Digitization 101 blog posts:

1 comment:

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

At the Medical Library Association conference this week, Scott Plutchak agreed with Seth Godin. Writing about the presentation, Marcus' World paraphrased Plutchak and said:

"...this is a great age for librarians and not for libraries. The era of building great collections housed in impressive buildings is over. If we continue to think of ourselves as collection builders, as dealers in materials and not in ideas, we are doomed. This existential threat to the purpose of libraries stems from the ease of online access to information, which will continue to reshape our world."

Read Marcus' World to get more of Scott Plutchak's comments.