chief strategist for public libraries at EBSCO Information Services (ebsco.com)
What’s something that has re-energized you or kept you excited about librarians/libraries in the past year?
Staff. Over the past year, I’ve had several occasions to interact with staff members from libraries across the country, and I continue to be amazed by their dedication, commitment, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive. I worked with several staff members at the Hillsboro Public Library in Oregon at a six-session readers’ advisory training. We examined videos of real readers to determine how reading fit into the lives of these individuals and how the library might enrich their reading. The readers had lots of options for finding books, but in our final “Shark Tank” session, this talented group of professionals identified several potential new programs and services that could add value to each reader’s experience with books and other storytelling media. These sessions demonstrated that when staff members have the opportunity to connect with their readers, they can use their extensive skills and knowledge to create services that enrich their users’ lives.
I’m not only energized about the people who are currently practicing in libraries, but the individuals entering the profession as well. I was invited to participate in the Seminar in Popular Materials class at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science in October. Based on the emerging talent I saw in that classroom, it’s clear that public libraries will have the talent they need to continue to be an essential part of their community’s inspiration infrastructure.
How do you see librarianship/libraries evolving in the next few years?
I think libraries will continue to shift from library-centric thinking to community-centric thinking. We will start to really focus on not only the physical space, but the digital experience that we’re providing to our community. One indication of this trend is the shift in the language we use to describe our work from information to learning.
Libraries will realize that their most valuable asset is not their buildings or their collections, but their staff. Librarian experts should look for more services that help them build their audience—followers on Twitter, subscribers to staff-curated emails, and speaking opportunities at library partner events. A good example of leveraging staff expertise is Multnomah County Library’s My Librarian service (multcolib.org/my-librarian). This trend means that we will be building connected and ongoing relationships with our users instead of allowing library use to be anonymous and episodic. It also reinforces the importance of working with our users to establish the right balance between privacy and personalized services.
I believe we will also see the definition of library user expanded from just individuals to encompassing a community’s organizations and groups. In other words, the trend of public libraries partnering with other organizations is going to accelerate as libraries work to enable other agencies to better meet community needs.
What makes you feel hopeful about the future of libraries?
Being entrepreneurial is in a librarian’s DNA, since the definition of being an entrepreneur, as Bruce Bachenheimer of Pace University says, is “imagining new ways to solve problems and create value.” Wayne Wiegand, in Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, reminds us that our creative approach to solving problems and creating value focuses on three main areas: commonplace reading (i.e., pleasure reading), providing useful information, and serving as a community gathering place. Our creative approach manifested in libraries that looked different in 1990 from the ones in 1890, and the ones that are evolving today are different from the ones around in the 1990s. But while the specific strategies and tactics that we use have changed and evolved, the needs they address have not.
For today, and in the future, I see the need for our communities to have a place that supports inspiration through story, provides the learning that users need to navigate the public library’s curriculum (which is this thing called life), and establishes meaningful and respectful connections with others. This is going to be more essential now than ever if we are to establish a world in which we all want to live.
I recently came across a blog post by Abigail DeWitt, a North Carolina author whose book News of Our Loved Ones was recently published (librarylovefest.com/2018/09/llf-guest-post-abigail-dewitt-author-of-news-of-our-loved-ones.html). Abigail, who is a devoted public library user, talks about Sylvia, a recently retired bookmobile librarian in a rural Appalachian county. Sylvia not only changed Abigail’s life, but also the lives of those she served. Abigail goes on to say, “It is librarians, after all, who, by handing us the means to transcend boundaries, are the true revolutionaries in a species so bent on mistrust of what is different.” That is mighty important and necessary work. It is ours to do. Our profession has the human capital to fulfill this mission, and that is why I am hopeful about not only the future of libraries, but of humanity itself.