That’s the ominous yet exciting subtitle of one of many presentations/discussions hosted at this year’s American Library Association Conference this weekend in Chicago. Put together, those are two potently suspenseful words.
ALA’s annual conference, hosted by the national nonprofit organization for libraries (and continuing library education), notably draws tens of thousands of professionals in the field each year, learning about and promulgating the evolution of libraries.
That question, what’s next, raises the hair on the back of any professional’s neck, in good ways and bad ways. But when we ask it (or whisper it) inside a library, we’re particularly pondering our transition into a digital age – how to ensure the public we serve – you: our neighbors, our community-members – has the best access to information.
And what an age! We are at once striding and stumbling into this digital age. The major publishers are only just coming around to permitting public libraries to loan out their authors’ titles for electronic-lending (via EPUB-files for e-reader devices or WAV-audiobook-files for iPods and the like).
We are figuring out how to fit our new digital role; ALA puts it nicely (with a twinge of sci-fi theatricality): “… stewards of America’s digital cultural heritage.”
Another central theme to this year’s ALA conference: expanding and strengthening community engagement.
The Chicago Tribune recently ran a Letter to the Editor written by Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association, and Richard C. Harwood, founder/president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, ruminating upon how libraries have long ago lost their old dusty card catalogs – thus they should also lose the stigma of just being a big building of books and DVDs-for-rent.
These re-imagined community centers welcome “anyone,” wrote Sullivan and Hardwood, “… regardless of age, economic status or citizenship … ready-made to host members of the community when they come together to address their needs, challenges and hopes for the future. Library leaders stand ready to facilitate such engagement.”
And so it is, as we continue to struggle, evolve, learn and lead in an age of admitted financial woes (as suffered throughout various professions and industries in the wake of the recession), it can be scary, sometimes, to wonder, “What’s next?” because, what’s next could mean budget cuts or worse. But hopefully not. And, likely not. We stay positive and remain inventive, adaptable, committed!
At the end of the day, we remind ourselves, as a library staff, who we are here to serve and that quells any anxieties over our transition to the future, due in large part to the support you’ve already shown us, this year and in years past.
We’re ever-grateful to have the enthusiastic support of the community we serve, Ferndale, and we hope every reader or patron or anyone seeking access to information, realizes the extent to which we, the Ferndale Public Library, strive to mold ourselves in the model of a 21st-century community center.
And, yes, a humble steward of “America’s digital cultural heritage.”
Times are changing – libraries are changing. Patrons are changing too: not just as readers (getting into e-books, now) but for those utilizing our space as a neighborhood-networking center (for book clubs, creative collectives or educational organizations) or as utilizers of our access-outlets (i.e., our public computers).
We just wanted to assure you we respect this role of ours, it’s not a day-job and we’re not on autopilot. The rampantly electronically-evolving world in which we live is already resulting in such heretofore unimaginable innovations like – an all-digital library.
Or, a “people’s” library?
The winds change quickly sometimes, and it’s on us to be ready when they do. Thus, we’ve redefined ourselves. We’re more than a library. We’re an access hub, we’re a quiet reading nook, we’re a hushed place for study, research or contemplation. You can hear live music here and there’s framed artwork (by local artists) on the walls; you can have a yoga session here, you can bring your little one for an interactive reading experience. We can work with you, Ferndale. We’re more than happy to. What else are we going to do? Stamp books? No, so so SO much more than JUST that. We’re more than a library.
Ready for what’s next, whatever that is …