Magazine article American Libraries

Being Better: As People Find More Ways to Be, Libraries Must Follow

Magazine article American Libraries

Being Better: As People Find More Ways to Be, Libraries Must Follow

Article excerpt

Now where was I? Ah, yes: Rhapsodizing over my various libraries. I know you were all hanging breathlessly for what I couldn't squeeze into last month's column (like the dollar, 600 words doesn't go as far as it used to).

When last we met, I'd raised the idea that modern libraries have to be both somewhere and everywhere, familiarly obligated to house and preserve and maintain access to physical objects, provide venues for communal and community activity, and manifest the library profession's values and importance in a constant and visible way. Those obligations persist-and I'd say become even more vital-in the digital realm, where what we do and stand for can be sadly lacking.

Onward. I've previously poked at the notion that people are increasingly multiply present, devoting bits of themselves to the "real" world, and other bits to text-messaging, social networking, Second Lifeing, cell-phoning, Twittering, IMing, and so on (Sept. 2007, p. 46). None of this seems likely to abate any time soon, and it's hard to imagine there won't be more ways to be soon. (Maybe the Be-In folks were on to something back in '67.)

Put these two ideas together, and what do we get? That old chestnut: Be where users are (and support what they want and need). In a purely physical world, that means bookmobiles and branches and phone reference, inhabiting and sharing (and being) local community spaces. This is why academic libraries have traditionally been known as the "heart of the university" and why public libraries are usually right downtown or in busy areas.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Now that we have become hybrid entities, the same goes for digital spaces. When our clients can be almost anywhere-and often several places and presences-at once, the "library" must be there to meet them, on their own terms.

This all leads me, inevitably, inexorably, to two conclusions. …

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