Last month I was in Dodge City, Kansas doing a talk for the southwest Kansas library system. I was so impressed with the library there because it was so welcoming and usable. A large room off to the side of the reference books and stacks even offered comfortable couches and chairs facing a big flat screen TV, presumably for weekly screenings of DWTS (although while I was there, I only saw CNN). The library community there was just as friendly. I had a great time walking through the stories and experiences of many of the librarians that I spoke with for the Inside, Outside, and Online project. I left feeling re-inspired by the unique ways they were meeting local community needs.
The story that especially stuck with me was the librarian who decided to take story-time to the park when she realized that spanish-speaking mothers were meeting there with their children every week. They didn’t originally feel comfortable with the library, but she’s built up a rapport with them over time, and now they come to the library frequently - though they still do story-time in the park!
A few weeks later, I was in Santa Fe doing a short update on OCLC and WebJunction for the state librarians at COSLA’s fall meeting. The thing that really struck me during this meeting was how far along we are now with our workforce development services. So many of the state librarians were talking about how these services had established real, lasting partnerships with other statewide agencies that they didn’t have before. The recession has really given us the opportunity to work differently, collaborate more effectively, at the state level, and for that I am grateful.
And then the following week, I attended the “state library capacity building” (#buildSLA) meeting at the Gates Foundation and had a wonderful time serving as a table facilitator during the open discussions. I met a lot of new people from state libraries (since two people were invited from each, and I don’t often get to meet with library deputies or development directors). I walked away from this meeting with an even stronger sense that all libraries, at every level, need to seriously consider and articulate the future of libraries so that we can begin acting on the funding and governance changes that need to occur in order to get us there. The recession and its impact on libraries has brought new opportunities for partnerships and “doing things differently” but I don’t think it’s enough. We need to do more.
In my view, the future of libraries depends on community engagement. User-centered design and implementation of the library and all its services. There is also a thread on learning that can go from cradle to grave, be present for all of life’s “breaking points” (as Claudia Lux calls them), but there’s something about the term “lifelong learning” that gives me pause. Anyway, for two years now, I’ve been thinking about “community engagement” as the center-piece of effective library practice. Early this fall the suggestion came to me that “the future of libraries” was the most pressing topic for public libraries in the US. Over the travels of my last several months, consideration of the future of libraries, and whether or not community engagement techniques can help us prototype the library of the future, has become top of mind for me.
I touch on this a bit in my TEDxRainier talk on Saturday. I’ll post the script and slides here for anyone who is interested; of course, the video will be available eventually for those who don’t make it to the big day (or the live stream online).
Do you know of any libraries that are prototyping their future facilities, services, and content (incl. formats) directly with their users? What techniques are they using? Any results yet? I’d like to build an aggregate prototype of all the great stories we come up with. And with that I’ll say good night. If I keep picking and talking, I might find myself writing another book.