Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Emerging Role of Libraries

What's a library anyway? Is it a repository for books, a movie store, a computer lab, an urban hangout, a classroom, a community center, an information booth, or all of these things and more? Should a library be expected to be all of these things or is 3 out of 5 good enough?

I believe that a library can (and dare I say should) try to be all of these things, and some day when the need calls for it, maybe more. Yes, I know what a can of worm this opens. Many have argued that having so many goals and audiences could dilute the focus and mission of the library. I concede that it is a risk, but I accept that potential risk over the daily defeat that occurs when a genuine need is not met.

A Blonde Walks into a Library

A blonde walks into a library and says to the librarian "Can I have some hamburgers?"
The librarian chidingly replies, "Ma'am, this is a library."
Then blonde says, "Sorry," then whispers, "Can I have some hamburgers?"

If the customers ask for them, should the library have hamburgers? Sure, maybe. I mean, why not? If the community calls for it and supports it, what's the problem? Sure in a society of Hitlers or perverts or other nightmares, the library would be beyond monstrous, which let's be honest, would be the least of our problems. Not all ideas and suggestions are good ones, but they aren't all bad either. Several years ago, as the library was considering obtaining and circulating DVDs as part of our regular collection. I scoffed. Yes, me, advocate of change or progress was a nay-sayer. (I'll allow you a moment to recover, then I'll explain.)

Customers wanted DVDs and I thought they couldn't handle them. I thought they'd be so scratched that it would be resources down the tubes or simply outright stolen. And ... I was wrong. They were ready for these new resources, took reasonable care of them and we won new customers in the process. Sure, we lost a few and the collateral is higher than for other media, but customer satisfaction and circulation has certainly benefited from this (then) controversial addition.

It's easy to see in retrospect that DVDs weren't that unsafe of a bet, and I dare to say the same is true for computer labs, wireless internet, coffee shops and bookstore like merchandising. So who's to say what the library might become. We just need to be adaptive to emerging technologies and trends while listening to our customers and giving them, and ourselves, the chance to exceed our expectations.

No comments: