Saturday 18 July 2015

Expect More

Finished July 18
Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today's Complex World by R. David Lankes

This short volume is aimed at the general public, rather than librarians, but it looks at the future of libraries and the things that communities should look to their libraries to provide. Lankes includes all types of libraries here, public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, corporate libraries, and special libraries. Each has a community they serve and the way that their interact with that community is key to the services they provide.
He states early in the book that what libraries and librarians do is facilitate, and what they facilitate is knowledge creation. There are four ways that they do this: provide access; provide training; provide a safe environment, and build on your motivation to learn. He breaks this down. Providing access isn't just referring to books, databases and other collections of information, but also knowledge, something dynamic and created by the individual and the community. He puts this well by quoting a very graphic metaphor.
Joan Frey Williams, librarian and prominent library consultant, put it best when she said that libraries must move from grocery stores to kitchens. A grocery store is where you go to consume, to buy ingredients for your meals. A kitchen, however, is where you go to combine these ingredients with your own skills and talents to make a meal. Kitchens tend to be social spaces, the place where everyone ends up at a party because it is the place where there is action occurring. Libraries need to be kitchens -- active social places where you mix a rich set of ingredients (information, resources, talents) into an exciting new concoction that can then be shared.
Training gets librarians involved in active learning. They aren't just showing members how to use a resources, but showing them how to see the bigger picture, determining which tools are the right ones to use to solve a given problem, and doing training at the point of need.
Providing a safe environment isn't just about the physical, but also about the intellectual, creating an environment where it is safe to explore all kinds of ideas, offering appropriate privacy and lack of censorship.
Building on motivation to learn is about librarians asking questions of individuals and the community and figuring out what they want and how the library can help them get there. It's about letting them drive the programs and services libraries offer. As he says,
This is more than talking about the community ultimately owning the library by funding it through tax dollars or tuition. this is allowing co-ownership of library services.
What great libraries do is engage in conversation with their communities, "an exchange of ideas where both parties are shaped by the conversation and shape the other conversants". There has to be willingness to learn from all those involved in the conversation. Libraries need to be of the community rather than for the community.
Lankes shows that what kind of library your community has is really about the people that work there, the librarians. Do they engage and evolve with technology? Do they have the skills to impart technology knowledge across all age groups? Can they create and maintain a virtual presence that is engaged with the community? Do the use technology to engage collaboratively with their community? Are they skilled in asset management, not just inventory skills, but preservation and building collections that meet community needs? Are they able to actively reach out to all sectors of their community? Do they understand their community's social mores and cultures? Do they know how to build bridges between the diverse groups in their communities? Do they understand how to make projects and services sustainable? Do they know how to assess impacts of library services on their community? Can they guide their community through a continuous change process? Do they have the skills of transformative social engagement, that is able to help the community organize around its needs in light of larger community agendas? He describes librarians as "the intersection of three things: the mission, the means of facilitation, and the values librarians bring to the community." He talks about intellectual honesty, transparency about being key to trust.
Lankes talks about the differences between bad libraries, good libraries, and great libraries. Bad libraries are collection-driven, good libraries are service-driven, but great libraries are community-driven. He is careful to note that this doesn't mean great libraries don't have collections, only that the collections they do have and what types of resources are in those collections are driven by community need, not by librarian prescriptives. Libraries need to spend more time on connections to their community and less time on book collections. The emphasis needs to be on connections between people, not connections between items. "You build a new library when the old one is too small to accommodate the community, not when it is too small to accommodate the stuff." Librarians need to be learning too, from all members of their community, all ages, all education-levels, all cultures. The mission of the library is to improve society, not maximize use of library services.
My library's mission statement speaks to enriching the community and based on this book, I think we're heading in the right direction.

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