Wednesday, April 26, 2006

American Public Libraries: A Long Transformative Moment

In this article, the author counters the argument that libraries and librarianship is going the way of the 8-track by pointing out what the library is and does: the library is a physical space used by a community for more than just books, that libraries have often been ahead of some technologies, and that libraries provide equal access to technology. In her opinion, technology is not the demise of libraries as so many contend but as a "tool" that libraries use to their advantage.
She maintains that there will always be a need for libraries and librarians but that librarians' and libraries' roles are changing. To keep up with the change, she suggests the following:

-Libraries need strong leadership and need to "assume a key leadership role as the major player in a society that is now based on information and knowledge."
-Libraries need to be more connected, especially with online databases and to other libraries, and through such connectedness, libraries must enrich the content of the technologies available (for example, online databases should have full-text availability).
-Library buildings should be equipped and upgraded to handle new technology and that includes everything from wiring to new computers.
-Staff members need to learn, understand, and stay abreast of new technology, both the hardware and the software as well as online databases and websites.
-Libraries and governing boards must figure out how to reconcile local governance and funding with global technological access, such as the internet.
-Libraries and staff must maintain the goal and mission of equal access for everything the library offers, including technology, to every library user.

Some questions to ponder after reading this article. Are we now seeing the transformation that the author purports must take place for libraries to remain viable? Do you agree with the author as to her argument and solutions?
Consider this from the sides of the library user, a community member and the library staff member: do you see libraries taking active leadership roles in your community or beyond? If yes, how? If no, how could/should libraries be taking such roles? Do you agree that libraries even need to take more active leadership in communities?

3 comments:

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

I live in Waunakee, and due to the fact that I am in SLIS, I am quite keen to see and hear what the Waunakee Public Library is up to at all times. It would appear from my perspective that the WPL has little if any presence in the community. I may very well be incorrect, and if so please let me know otherwise. I am not trying to belittle the WPL, but it does not seem to hit the radar in my area. I know there is an effort made on the part of the library to get the word out, and I try to visit the library and watch the local paper to see what is going on, but there just aren't many ripples in the pool. I have asked my neighbors in my area, and they either never go to the library, or only go there if their kids have a research project for school. We have a nice little library here in Waunakee, but it needs some heavy PR, or a Miller Lite commercial or something.

Kelly said...

I think technological access is important, but I think it's even more important for libraries to put their time/money/effort into cultural and educational programs for the community. I wouldn't want libraries to stop providing public Internet access, but I'd rather see them host ESL classes, poetry readings, and teen book clubs than worry about having all the latest technological gadgets or providing cutting-edge software.

SarahStumpf said...

I have to say, after all we've read and all I've seen in SLIS, I have to wonder what all the fuss is about. From everything I have ever seen, librarianship is an extremely stable job. We're not dying out, we're not fading out, we're just freaking out. Maybe we need to invest in some empty paper bags and some valium.

How is the entire field of librarianship going to "assume a key leadership role"? There is no feasible way this can happen. Individual libraries can shape their communities, but librarianship is not going to take over the world. We can puff ourselves up all we like, but librarianship is not going to be blazing any new trails in society. And why should we? Is that our job? I think our job should be to help people get the infromation and resources they need, not worry about if we're leading enough.

Libraries need to have a strong presence in their community, but they don't have to be leading it. We need to have the things that are new and nescessary, but we don't have to jump on every techno fad just to prove how cutting edge and cool we are. We need to database with others, but not loose sight of our own communities, populations, issues, and problems in the rush to join the world.