The Time for Libraries is Now

I know that a fair amount of the folks who stop by here on a regular basis aren’t librarians or information professionals, and as a result, I’ve mostly kept the library-related posts here to a minimum.

Today I saw a slide deck that I wanted to share with those of you who don’t use libraries, or whose idea of what libraries (and library staff) are capable of may be a bit out of date. Yes, there are 87 slides, but you’ll go through them pretty quickly, I promise.

In May 2012, it’ll be seven, no, eight years since I graduated from library school. The things I was interested in – content creation, blogging, using emerging technologies, and usability – weren’t a huge part of the curriculum when I started back in 2002. A huge shift has happened in a relatively short amount of time, and more than ever, librarians are talking about user experience and customer experience. Librarians have always hacked information, but it seems to me that a lot more of us are interested in getting our hands dirty with code and making stuff more awesome. People from outside the profession with an interest in open data are looking at us and pointing fingers, asking us why we still keep our information locked away in proprietary silos.

I’m encouraged. I’m excited.

But I still want more.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was looking to make a career change, and I suggested that he think about going to library school. The profession needed more people like him – gregarious, outgoing go-getters who bring a new perspective and a different face to the profession (this profession needs to racially diversify like whoa, but that’s the subject of another post). He’ll be graduating this spring, and he’s already working as an academic librarian in Louisiana, and if I can be completely self serving for a moment, I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Libraries need more people like this — more people like you – to work for us. I’m not going to beat the drum for an LIS education, because I have my own issues with the diploma mill mentality, churning out graduates into a market where the jobs are few and far between. What I would like to see, however, is more community partnerships where tech professionals volunteer to build applications for cash- and resource-strapped libraries: something like Google’s Summer of Code, or Code for America, but just for public libraries.

Libraries can make this happen by becoming more open than we’ve ever been before. Not only in terms of space (although that is really important), but we need to identify ways that we can remove whatever roadblocks exist between us and community partners who are ready and willing to help us take on our technological challenges. If there is a community organization that teaches computer courses that target a particular demographic, bring them in on a volunteer basis and let them teach your basics courses for a while. It’ll free up library staff to focus on other things (like community engagement, for example) and to get back to much needed professional development. If we could be guaranteed 10 hours a week to work on a fun project of our own, I believe we would see some truly innovative service models, programs, and technological solutions.

But what’s the best way to reach out? That’s something I’ll be trying to suss out over the next little while.

  • http://endlessvelolove.blogspot.com/ G.E.

    I love the slides… it’s a great way to share information quickly and easily. I hope it’s something that you and others are able to share with locals.

    Personally, I love libraries. When I was homeless (that’s a story for another time), I spent a lot of time in libraries (not sleeping in them, but just keeping myself busy when I wasn’t at work – God, I sound like a mess). Anyway, I grew to love them more than ever because I realized how much information there really is to be found. I’m sure it’s changed dramatically since those days though (for the better). Our library is a bit small and dated, but I’ve always found the librarians to be very helpful with whatever information I was in need of finding. Even if it means finding the books in another library and getting them sent for a few weeks.

  • Bicyclemamy

    as you can tell from my writing style, i am not a writer, but i am a voracious reader. i am a strong advocate for libraries.  my best time as a child was in my favorite library, the main library in brookly,ny. currently my favorite city library is a 2.5 bicycle ride away in downtown west palm beach, fl http://www.wpbpl.com/. this library is absofreakinlutly awesome with all the services they provide for us “regular folk”. in turn, i stand on the highest mountain (ok, intracoastal bridge b/c florida is flat) and speak about their wonderful services all the time.

    i’m not exactly sure what your are looking for, but my library gets much use due to it’s direct involvement with the city of west palm beach and their continuous events that occur  downtown. they always tie their events to the library. hth.

    whenmy family relocate in the future,  i pray we will be able to create a similar community library/center that tend to the immediate needs of the community. the library is the best place to gather those from different age/ethnicity and backgrounds to focus on pressing subjects that directly effect the community.

  • http://cyclistofacertainage.blogspot.com/ Julia

    Interesting slide presentation  I got my first library card at the age of 5, it was my first
    official piece of identification and I felt very grown up.. I could spend hours
    just randomly flipping  through the card
    catalog, not unlike getting got up in a web search.

     

    Now, however, I rarely go into a library though I  frequently borrow e-books.  Peer review journals are now available online,
    and many databases are available for college students to access remotely..  I wonder if you see libraries going the way of
    many bricks and mortar book stores or perhaps becoming a virtual space?

     

    • Cecily Walker

      Julia, I mentioned in an internal staff visioning exercise that I think libraries should divest from some of their real estate holdings, but I do think that public buildings still have value in our society. Perhaps library buildings will become more multi-use than they already are. I like that the library system I work for has been putting library branches in community centres, rather than creating free-standing library branches that are disconnected from other services.

  • LibrarianLaurie

    I am a librarian (since Dec. 2002), and I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said!