Conference Addresses the Need for Change in Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Eleanor Jo Rodger, a librarian's librarian, admits with some embarrassment that she rarely uses the library in the Chicago suburb where she lives. It's closed by the time she gets home late from work. So recently, when she wanted information about medicine a doctor prescribed for her mother, Rodger didn't check with the information resource that was so close but--because of her professional schedule--so far away.

Instead, Rodger turned to a fax machine. From work, she sent out queries to a network of other librarians, and by day's end the details she sought were in hand.

Her experience, retold in early April to a room packed with--of all people--public-library trustees, clearly bothered Rodger. As executive director of the Public Library Association of the American Library Association, she sais she was frustrated by her inability to use a hometown library during its operating hours. And she worried that she's not alone.

"Historically, libraries have served people who have more time than money," Rodger said. But times change. "The problem is almost nobody has time anymore," she explained. "There's a franticness to our lives, and that affects the people libraries are trying to serve."

"Better service" and "more-effective marketing" were oft-repeated phrases during the sixth-annual Pennsylvania Library Trustee Institute at which Rodger was a general-session speaker. The two-day conference outside Philadelphia, repeated later in the month in Pittsburgh, also covered topics like libraries' legal responsibilities, advocacy, personnel, and finances. At the heart of sessions covering basic operations and money matters was concern about libraries' ability to attract and keep customers.

"Information is your business," Dr. Joseph P. Grunenwald, dean of the College of Business Administration at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, told trustees, "and information delivery is your responsibility." He likened future libraries to "information stores" where Americans would shop for facts, and which must change as quickly as the shoppers' needs.

Grunenwald predicted a growing number of older Americans will indulge in "the self-directed research they always wanted to do but never had time for." And exploding minority population will demand literature suited to a multi-racial audience. And a "now-oriented society crushed with pressures" will expect information to be furnished fast and without fuss. …