There was an excellent article which just recently came out in Slate, titled “What Will Become of the Library“. I sent this out to a few contacts in libraries and received this feedback from one person … who at this point wants to remain anonymous. Very interesting thoughts… I had also asked this person about Public Library needing to rebrand – maybe change their name to more accurately reflect the activities occurring in them.
The answer to your question about re-branding: Yes.
When you hear ‘Academic library’, you probably won’t think picture books. A ‘Medical Library’ is likely to make you think of books that assist doctors. I think that the word ‘library’ should stay, but perhaps ‘public’ should change. I say this because if you completely remove the word ‘library’ from the identity, there is the risk of forgetting about the things that libraries have and still offer: Books. When people hear the word ‘library,’ they think of books. There is nothing wrong with that either. I believe there will always be a place for books in the future of libraries. I think part of the issue lies in the word ‘Public‘. There are many meanings for the word ‘public’. Therefore, there are differing opinions on what a public library should and does offer. Some people assume that it should be a quiet space for the public, while others use the space in a more social way. With all the variations in libraries (Law, Medical, Public, Academic, etc.), I think it is safe to say that the stereotypical expectation is that they all have at least two things in common: being a place that is quiet, and a place that has books.
I would propose changing the name to (whatever town) Social Library. My reasoning is this: When I hear ‘Social Library’ as two words together, I think “This is a place with books, but how can you be social in a quiet place?” This is what we need to happen. We need people to know that we still offer books, but question what else we have to offer, and how these components fit together. This is when we can educate the community on what libraries are all about. We can tell them about the programs, the games, the computers we have to offer. We can let them know that they should not be expect to hear a pin drop everywhere in the library at every moment.
More importantly, this is an opportunity to re-evaluate the library profession. As I read the article, I started to realize that we aren’t 100% confident and sure about what we offer. It’s ironic that more of our libraries collection is fiction rather than non-fiction, yet all of the articles that are concerned with the future of libraries hang on to this notion that technology is making information easier to access without the assistance of libraries/librarians. That is a concern for the non-fiction portion of Library services. There is still the fiction portion of the service. What part of technology is threatening the longevity of our fiction collection/service? There are e-readers, but those require a digital copy of the book (which the library offers). People will buy e-books, but just like books, there will be a large population of people that still prefer to borrow books. That will still require a library. While fiction books are still classified as information, one could argue that they are classified as entertainment as well.
The next question is this: With all the technology advancements, why will we need so many staff to provide information? The answer is, we don’t. Gone are the days of staff that are strictly information specialists. We need those staff to do “double duty”. We need more staff that have strengths in more than just the area of book knowledge. We need staff that can also do puppet shows, work social networks, computers, gaming. I am a firm believer that there will never be time where we don’t need teachers. They do something that computers cannot replace: Interact and help people grow. Tumble books and videos are fine and dandy, but nothing replaces a live story time or a puppet show. Its just like music: most bands make albums even though record sales are down because of technology and piracy. But nothing can replace a live performance. Those are the things that librarians can offer, that technology cannot.
I think we overvalue our ability to help people find information, and undervalue our ability to help people be social and find entertainment. People will always want a book or movie recommended for them, and puppet show performed for them, a story read to them. They will always seek a cheap way to use or learn how to use the newest technologies and social medias. Those are things we can provide as social library staff, and prove that the library profession is not and will not be dead… as long as we realize our strengths and sell the community on that.
Thanks to the Anonymous Contributor… now the question is … what are your thoughts on this?