community relations

This month, I started my new job as Community Relations director at OCLC. I can’t tell you yet what that means, since I’ve been very busy doing my old job (like, writing grants and things like that). But I am very excited about the opportunity, and will share more in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll ask you a question: If OCLC’s public purpose is to “advance librarians, libraries, and librarianship” – and that is my charge – where do you think we should start?

new leaf – Brian Bannon in Chicago

Please read this nice article about my friend Brian Bannon in Chicago. Give the good man a chance, Chicago! He loves your libraries, and I just know that you’ll grow to love him as well.

building the global library field

I spent the last several days in a room with the strategic advisor network of the global libraries program at the gates foundation. It’s exhilarating to have the time and the space to sit with the collective intelligence of a dozen or so library professionals who are managing global library associations, building the most innovative public libraries in the world, advancing scholarship and practice, developing local economies with the public libraries they lead or support. Exhilarating, honestly, feels like it doesn’t do any of this justice.

By the end of our time together, the group came up with three priority suggestions for the team on where to invest resources in order to “build the global library field” (in my own words):

– human capital and leadership networks

– measuring impact and communicating value

– shared solutions and infrastructure

Implicit in all of these was the notion of “articulating a vision for the future of libraries” and a strong emphasis on “community engagement” and “partnerships” in doing so.

I left the meeting with a renewed, and still profound, sense that this team is the best positioned organization in the world to advance the field globally. They’ll do it with their continued deep engagement with stakeholders (our group is just one small way they engage inside the field) and their commitment to working with others to get the job(s) done. I also felt extremely grateful for my time there. I am so lucky to know every individual in this group; and am changed myself by my interactions with them whenever we have the chance to meet and exchange. I also left the meeting feeling that there should be concerted, coordinated effort to articulate the future of libraries – in context with how content and learning is changing. It certainly wasn’t missed in the discussion, but I would have traded “human capital” investments for more focus there.

It’s hard to prioritize, and really, working in any of these critical areas will do much to energize the institutional change we need now. If you were personally tasked with “building the global library field” – and you had significant resources to apply to this challenge – what would you do?

pick a little, talk a little

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.