It’s good to be back. A year and a half ago, I left my job as executive editor at LJ and moved down the hall to head up sister publication School Library Journal (SLJ). Little else could have pried me away from the work I had under way here at Library Journal at the time. Now I am back, having been recently named editorial director of the two magazines and editor in chief of both.
How many jobs is that? It’s natural to ask. The answer is one, albeit a reinvented one, which I believe leaves us poised to do our best work ahead to serve you and, ultimately, library users ever better.
I’ve often thought there should be a library for each place or need in a person’s life. Libraries should provide a strand of service that sustains learning and community from the first moments in a children’s room, through school and into college, and into work life and through adulthood. Bill Crowley’s article “Lifecycle Librarianship”is one articulation of this concept, as are libraries in their very design by type—public, school, academic, corporate—placed in the institutions or communities that mark the phases of life. They are, ostensibly, in place to take in and pass along patrons as they move from one phase to the next.
The public library has the longest potential reach across our life spans, but each library is, in a sense, responsible to the next library. This responsibility is twofold: to inspire graduating patrons’ minds to work wonders in the world and to impassion their political hearts to support the role of libraries in our society.
I am alert as never before to the ongoing turf wars fueled by declining budgets or still-siloed thinking. An example is the need for a dynamic response to the retraction of library service to kids as school libraries see deepening cuts. As I have written at SLJ, this is not just one library division’s problem (“It’s Time To Step Up.”) It requires a fulsome advocacy response, as the loss of these services puts students at risk and presses public libraries into service to meet the needs of the youth and families left without resources.
Stepping into the gap is especially difficult when there is little culture of integrated service across libraries. Incoming freshmen too often arrive at college unprepared to use the library effectively or, worse, are unaware of how it can support them as they dive into study. But the opportunities are myriad if we view patrons as whole people with needs beyond what any one department or service point can offer. For example, we must collaborate with fluidity and serve college students who also need life-skill support—or even pleasure reading. If we work to create this kind of culture, provide this kind of service, everyone will benefit.
Such integrated thinking is what many of the best librarians already do to get the optimal result for their communities. They see the budget pressures, but they also see the potential for connection over isolation. In my time at SLJ and at LJ, I have come into contact with many great librarians at work. Great librarians don’t protect turf. They extend their influence. They foster unheard-of partnerships and discover their staffers’ strengths.
I have always considered LJ to be a hub for the collective mind of librarians from all types of institutions, where the issues affecting each get raised, news gets shared, and solutions get nurtured. I move into this new stage of my work with you looking, yet again, for ways to extend our influence beyond each issue, beyond each library, beyond each community.
This is no time for turf wars; we have something vital to offer.
Rebecca T. Miller