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How Relevant are Libraries?


More so than ever!  Those old Carnegie Libraries are definitely changing with the times.  (Andrew Carnegie saw libraries as the “quintessential educational institution for the whole community” and devoted huge amounts of money to building them in the early 1900s).

When I was a kid, my family had no TV (my parents were teachers and thought it was a mindless activity!) so the local Library was a major source of entertainment.  I visited twice a week, signing out 3 books (the maximum allowed) each time.  By the time I was 10, I’d read every book in the Children’s Department.  I then had to present my parents’ written permission to the Chief Librarian in order to take out books from the Adult (for people 14 and older) Department.  (At age 11, I was desperate to read Peyton Place and The Group which raised an eyebrow or two…yet so tame in comparison with TV shows kids watch today!).

My first job after graduating from university was as a Librarian’s Assistant.  The children’s “Li-berrian” to whom I reported was the stereotypical spinster with bun and glasses who was constantly in shush mode.  I suggested offering the kids an after school program (conversational French lessons? arts and crafts? puppet plays? quiet time to veg out in front of Sesame Street, a revolutionary new show at the time?).  Much as I love books and reading, it was not a good philosophical or stylistical fit then so I moved into HR.

But…had I gone on to earn an MLS, I think I’d be totally engaged in today’s libraries!  Today that MLS  has morphed into a Master of Library and Information Science degree to reflect the new Mission, Vision and Values of libraries.

Three current trends I find fascinating as an info junkie:

Learning Hubs

  • Elizabeth Diaz wrote in her “Why Libraries are a Smart Investment for the Country’s Future“ article for Time magazine (June 27, 2012) that:
    • “There are now more public libraries in the US than McDonald’s restaurants” (thank heavens!)
    • “Libraries provide people with cultural capital…lectures, music, debates, news, internet access…all free and accessible.  Libraries were even some of the first places open to all races” (just as Andrew C envisioned)
    • “Despite the transition to digital media, the doors are open for (even more) innovative public service” (yesss!)
  • Rachel Vacek in her “Technology Trends in Libraries – Today & Tomorrow” paper says:
    • What’s hot are Web 2.0 and Library 2.0
    • Web 2.0 is characterized by collaboration, wisdom of crowds, self expression, transparency…
    • Library 2.0 follows suit with open stacks, smart systems, a range of options, information as conversation, ensuring user expectations are met…

Living Libraries  www.humanlibrary.org

  • These libraries contain human books, everyday people who are willing to discuss their values and experiences with others.  So if you were interested in finding out more about a topic…male midwives, a particular religion, tatts and piercings, going through chemo and/or radiation…but needed more information than the typical “read” provides, you could check out a human book.  The unique value proposition?  It’s an opportunity for discussion where there are no dumb questions.  You ask for the info you need and want to know.  Your human book answers as someone who has been there, done that.  Often meeting one person and seeing how much more we’re alike than different is how we learn, grow and update any erroneous beliefs.

Little Free Libraries  www.littlefreelibraries.org

  • These were showcased in the July 20th Globe and Mail.  It’s  ”a simple idea to house free books in tiny wooden buildings (they reminded me of birdhouses) on posts” that started in Wisconsin in 2009.  A few short years later they can be found in more than 30 countries.  They’re open 24/7 (just as accessible as having a Kobo or Kindle!) and the key to keeping readers engaged is introducing new titles on a regular basis.

Two years ago, my daughter took me aside and quietly suggested that it was time to transition to an e-reader.  She knows how much I love the smell and feel of paper books and how resistant I would be to making the change.  But when we went on vacation for 2 weeks and I was able to load 14 books onto my Kobo instead of packing a separate bag o’ books, I was hooked.  (Alright, I confess I still read the newspaper in hard copy with coffee in hand).

Maybe when I retire, I’ll volunteer in a Library 2.0!  If that doesn’t teach this old dog new tricks, what can?!