Magazine article Information Today

Give the People What They Want, but

Magazine article Information Today

Give the People What They Want, but

Article excerpt

American libraries are buffeted by cross currents. Citizens believe that libraries are important community institutions and profess interest in libraries offering a range of new program possibilities. Yet, even as the public expresses interest in additional library services, there are signs that the share of Americans visiting libraries has edged downward over the past three years, although it is too soon to know whether or not this is a trend.

--John B. Horrigan, senior researcher for 'Libraries at the Crossroads,' a report from Pew Research Center's Internet, Science & Tech division

By now, there's a good chance you've already read a variety of commentary on the above-referenced Pew report on public libraries, which was released in mid-September. But a couple of months have passed, and I think it's worth revisiting some of the report's findings.

The name of the Pew report--"Libraries at the Crossroads"--accurately describes the current public library landscape. Fewer people may be visiting brick-and-mortar libraries, but a large majority fiercely defends the library as a key public institution. To wit, here's what participants in the Pew survey on which the report was based (age 16 and older) feel public libraries should "definitely" do:

* Offer free literacy programs to help young children prepare for school (85%)

* Coordinate more closely with local schools to provide resources to kids (85%)

* Offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools--computers and smartphones, etc. (78%)

* Offer programs to teach patrons about protecting their privacy and security online (76%)

* Create programs and services for active duty military and veterans (74%)

* Provide comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing at the library (64%)

* Create programs and services for immigrants and first-generation Americans (59%)

* Create programs and services for local businesses and entrepreneurs (52%)

* Buy 3D printers and other digital tools so people can learn how to use them (45%)

So--particularly if you've ever worked in a public library--take a close look at this list. How prepared is your institution to offer these services and/or maintain them over the long run?


It's been my experience working in all sorts of libraries that it is far easier to get money to buy stuff than it is to get funding to hire more people. However, more people are definitely what you need if you are tasked, as an institution, with providing a diverse array of services. And not just warm bodies--in most cases, you need people with a specialized skill set and/or professional experience. Not everyone is qualified to work with children. Not everyone has wide-ranging technical skills. Not everyone has the know-how to develop (and successfully market) specific community programs. Most of this stuff is leamable, but that means appropriating the funds (and setting aside the time) for staff training, professional conferences, and more.

Then there's the need for cross-training. What happens if someone wants to use the 3D printer on a day when the person who nursemaids it is not working? What happens when the children's librarian gets sick or the teen librarian goes out on maternity/paternity leave? And it's absolutely essential that more than one staff member needs to know things such as how to deal with recalcitrant public access computers and how to reset the wireless router. …

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