Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Passion, Practice, Partnership and Politics: Marketing the Future of Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Passion, Practice, Partnership and Politics: Marketing the Future of Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Public libraries will continue to produce a range of programs and services, and provide access to increasingly complex sources of information. The human interface and client focus they offer are very important. There is a need to harness passion, enthusiasm and energy into leadership and translate this into practice. Examples of best practice around the world are described. Edited version of a paper given at the NSW Metropolitan Public Libraries Association conference 13-14 September 2001


Would it really matter if we did not have public libraries? Would it really matter to society if the public library died a quiet death? Is the public library an institution that has had its day? Should it go the way of the corner store? The vinyl record? The silent movie? The Saturday night dance?

It may seem strange to be asking this question but if we do not ask it, and answer it to the satisfaction of those who fund and support us, then we might just find we slip into irrelevance as the 21st century progresses. And that, in my view, would be as catastrophic an event as those which plunged Europe into the dark ages all those centuries ago.

A grandiose claim? A place which lends books and magazines, runs programs for children and the elderly, helps kids with their homework. A place which is often shabby and well worn, often cramped with not much room for people. Is this so significant an institution that we would be plunged into the dark ages without it?

Looking for the future in the past

How can we create the future that will best benefit those we serve? To have any hope of creating this future we need to understand the past. In the opening lines of Burnt Norton in four quartets T S Eliot eloquently says

   Time present and time past
   Are both perhaps present in time future
   And time future contained in time past. (1)

The past for libraries is a long and noble one and the local public library is one of the youngest descendants of this tradition. From the great library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC to its recreated counterpart opened in April 2002 (2) the basic purpose of libraries has not changed much. Crawford and Gorman in their book Future libraries (3) state this purpose as

   The tasks of the library can be simply stated and understood. They are as
   true for a modern branch of a public library as they are for cathedral
   libraries of the middle ages or the great research collections of
   universities. Libraries exist to acquire, give access to and safeguard
   carders of knowledge and information in all forms and to provide
   instruction and assistance in the use of the collections to which their
   users have access. In short, libraries exist to give meaning to the
   continuing human attempt to transcend space and time in the advancement of
   knowledge and the preservation of culture. (4)

They go on to quote R R Bowker writing about the role of the librarian in Library journal in the late nineteenth century

   [It is for the librarian] ... to classify and catalogue the records of
   ascertained knowledge, the literature of the whole past, and so bring the
   books to readers and the readers to books. He is the merchant, the middle
   man, of thought, and performs in this field the function which political
   economy recognises as so important, of bringing goods to the place where
   they are wanted and so, also, creating demand. In this busy generation ...
   the librarian makes time for his fellow mortals by saving it; for a minute
   saved is a minute added. And this function of organising, of indexing, of
   time saving and thought saving, is associated peculiarly with the librarian
   of the nineteenth century. (5)

A similarity, also, with the librarian of the twenty first century. A recent user of Christchurch City Libraries had this to say

   [I] . … 
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