Thursday, May 04, 2006

WAPL 2006: Avoiding Sandbars in the Seas of Uncertainty: Who is Charting the Course for Libraries in Times of Change?

Keynote address by J.D. Waggoner, Secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission

If we were going to have the S.S. Librarian, what kind of librarian-ship would it be?
  • party barge? nah
  • Queen Elizabeth II? - probably not
  • a johnboat? - servicable, small, flat-bottomed, not good on the big water; gets you where you're going, gets it done -- this is the impression of librarians outside of the library community
  • why not a racing boat?
Part of the perception problem might be us. Quoting Pogo, "We has found the enemy, and they is us". The Librarian Action Figure -- is that right? Don't lets us advertise that's what we are -- it's great within our own community, we make fun of ourselves, but the "action shushing finger" is not the perception we want the public to see. G.I. Jane or G.I. Joe is the action figure we should have -- there's no bun, get rid of the comfortable shoes and put on the combat boots!

We are perhaps in the perfect storm.

We're very good at telling our story to each other, but not so good at communicating to others what it is librarians do.

Many people go into Google rudderless, and librarians are the best people to help navigate the the unfamiliar waters.

Technology won't diminish the importance of libraries. Libraries are not in trouble, perhaps only in our own heads are we in trouble. Studies say build your libraries larger than before; the community is depending on us more and more; the public needs librarians. We are a cruise ship; we need to build libraries bigger, to provide the public with services we need.

Stop looking at the dock.

The world of technology is just another piece of the puzzle that is the library.
The internet is not the problem; "we has found the enemy, and they is us".

Solutions that will help us:

1. Untie the good ship librarian from the dock; get away from the library, get out into the community. Talk to people in your community who don't use the library; find out why they don't use the library. Get out among them, do surveys of non-users.

2. Make the library indispensible in your community. Become the tugboat. The library's role is to educate the public.

3. Get political. If you are not, become so. You can't be apolitical. Your budget money comes from your town, county, state; those budgetmakers make decisions that affect your library. Be the information source for the cultural life of your community; open your library up to the community; have local concerts in the library. during hunting season, put "getting the trophy buck" videos in the front window to pull in non-readers and people who wouldn't think of using the library.

4. Explode the stereotype. Destroy the lollies (Little Old Lady Librarians). Let the public see that the johnboat is not what we are, we are the speedboat. Be a battleship not a dinghie.

In summary: if you give up the helm someone else will chart the course. But if you take the helm and make the decisions, you'll chart the course for change in your library.

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