I would never consider myself a Luddite. I own an Android phone and have upgraded it annually ahead of the completion of my contract since it was a bag phone the size of a toaster in my car. I was on Facebook just a couple of months after it went from university-only to its current free for all status (no pun intended). I have Skyped since it was measured in the hundreds of thousand of users not millions. I have an eBook reader and an mp3 player and I even check in on Foursquare. None of these things are intuitive to me and although the apps may be free, the time they consume never is. Technology moves so fast, it feels impossible to keep up. I know the bounty of surrounding myself with brilliant young people. Although they say they don’t mind helping me, I know they don’t want to sit around and hold my hand while I figure out the next new thing. Now they just spend their time getting me out of messes I have created while not asking them to teach or guide me through.
So in practically the same breath that I used to do all this complaining, I need to tell you about my lunch hour. I went out today and had the best interaction at a new card shop in downtown Grand Rapids. I took my purchases to a tiny little counter, the hip young 20-something ran my card through a postage stamp sized device on the top of her iPad, had me sign on the tablet with my finger tip and sent the receipt to my email. I giggled all the way back to the office.
Just as some sharks have to keep swimming forward or they will drown. Librarians and libraries are no different. The eBook devices and technology that consume our time today will be antiquated a year from now. In 5 years, who knows what the future will hold? I do know that as a library professional, I need to be aware of and embrace the next new thing, otherwise I will be left behind. The advent of the [insert your biblio-technology disaster – Netflix, the Internet, VHS tapes, microfiche, the printing press, bound books . . . ] spells doom for libraries. eBooks are only the latest biblio-disaster. Yet smart libraries and smart librarians are doing what it takes and swimming forward. They’re shaping a perceived disaster into a biblio-triumph.
Smart libraries and smart librarians are joining the conversation. They’re working with publishers and vendors and legislators to encourage policy and business models which factor in the needs of real people. They’re filling training and technology gaps in their communities. They’re adapting and evolving to make sure they can continue offering real and valuable services to those real people and connecting to community in ways never tried before. Beyond e-books and the technology flavor of the day, I believe that civic engagement and the library’s responsibility for public discourse, deliberative democracy and cultural connection may be the next new responsibility that heaves libraries past the electronic this and wi-fi that.
Paula Ellis, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives of the Knight Foundation, told a gathering of library and civic leaders in early November that a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation study reveals “libraries have a fundamental role in how attached people are to where they live.” She stated “That’s particularly important because how residents feel about their community may lead to greater economic vitality.” The study identified three factors that drive why people are emotionally attached to their neighborhoods and cities. They include: openness, or how welcoming a place is, its social offerings and aesthetics. Ellis continued, “Openness is at the top of the list of what drives people to love where they live. What is more welcoming than a library? Being welcoming is what gets people in the door and then people can form this emotional attachment to the library as a true community center and place for personal transformation.” (http://www.soulofthecommunity.org/content/ellis-libraries-are-respected-brands-can-help-create-strong-resilient-communities)
Welcome to your library!