Magazine article Computers in Libraries

We're Worth It

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

We're Worth It

Article excerpt

In the early part of every summer, the editors of Computers in Libraries ask me and the other columnists to suggest ideas for themes for the upcoming year's issues. I always find it difficult to come up with topics that will still be hot as far away as a year from now. This year I simply decided to list the various issues I knew I would be confronting in the coming months. After we've all submitted our suggestions, the editors plan the editorial calendar for the next year and send it out to all the columnists. It is always with a certain amount of trepidation that I look at the calendar with the themes I'm expected to discuss in my column. I always worry that I won't have anything new to say on a given topic, and I will admit that there have been times that the deadline is looming while I'm still struggling with the topic.

The theme for this month's issue, Proving Your Relevance, was selected nearly a year ago, but the editors must have had a crystal ball, since there could not be a more relevant topic right now for everyone who works in this profession. In these tough economic times, libraries of every type are facing cuts in funding while at the same time they are trying to keep up with new information technologies. Library budgets, even in prosperous times, never seem to be large enough to include everything necessary for top-notch services, and now many library budgets will suffer deep cuts. Librarians know they have to fight these cuts, but the question is, What strategy will be most effective?

Beyond Marketing: Advocacy

In recent years, librarians have paid more attention to marketing library services. As collections have expanded to include new audiovisual formats and information technologies have permitted wider access to electronic materials, librarians have realized that they need to "get the word out" about the exciting growth of available services. The American Library Association has sponsored awareness campaigns, as have state and local associations and Friends groups. Many libraries, including mine, are busier than ever as a result of these efforts.

Funding bodies, however, may not necessarily be swayed by marketing campaigns. When librarians and trustees ask for funding from government sources and foundations, it is not enough to tout new library services. In order to have scarce funds allocated to us, it is essential that librarians and trustees prove that our services have value-that they are relevant and essential to the communities we serve. Librarians, trustees, and Friends of the library must do more than just advertise library services, they must become library advocates who can clearly articulate and demonstrate the value of libraries to our society. Libraries must prove their relevance.

A challenge to our attempts to prove our relevance comes from the very technologies that have expanded services. There is a perception that perhaps the Internet has made visiting the library unnecessary. In a previous column, I mentioned a report titled, "The Internet Goes to College: How Students are Living in the Future with Today's Technology," which was prepared as part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The statistic that is most alarming for librarians is that 73 percent of college students say they use the Internet more than the library, while only 9 percent say they use the library more than the Internet.

Another sign of the perceived value of the Internet over libraries is the use of the phrase "to google," meaning to look something up using the Google search engine. I've heard the phrase used on popular television programs and I've seen it appear in the comic pages. Has Google made libraries irrelevant?

Not according to Craig Silverstein, the technology director for Google, who gave the opening keynote at the InfoToday Conference 2003 in New York on May 7. I was not fortunate enough to be able to attend the conference, but I did read some excerpts from his speech. …

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