Not long after Republican Kim Wyman was elected secretary of state of Washington in 2012, she had a meeting with a legislator that set her on a new course. As they began to explore the possibility of rebooting an envisioned but later abandoned Heritage Center project, she was asked, “Are libraries necessary?” It’s a great question. Her response should be a prod to all of us to get out there and make sure our elected officials have the insight into libraries they need to help build and sustain strong funding.
There is much to think about in “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries,” the first and much anticipated report of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries (AIDPL), released last month at the New York Public Library (ow.ly/CSN7z). While just a start in practical terms, it begins to reframe the role and position of public libraries in light of the possibilities brought by the digital age. Importantly, it describes a more robust, interconnected network of vital institutions, geared to impact the lives of even more people in the communities they serve. As a framing device, a sort of charter on what libraries are today and could become, it is inspiring, challenging, and useful.
When President Barack Obama appointed Susan H. Hildreth as director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2011, many in the profession knew we were in for a robust four years of activity by that federal agency. Hildreth had already been influencing the library landscape for years in major leadership roles, including time heading major public libraries (San Francisco and Seattle) and the California State Library.
Online learning, much touted and often doubted, is revolutionizing education as we know it. This is good for learners and could be transformational for libraries. The connection between learning and libraries has always been natural and strong—it’s fundamental. This particular transition, however, intensifies the need for libraries and calls for stepped-up services to support these independent learners.
Our professional credential is an embattled thing. It’s a rare day that the master’s in library and information science (MLIS) escapes a conversation unscathed and unquestioned. This is rightfully so. Nothing so time-consuming and expensive, and essential, should be taken for granted. It should be under constant scrutiny by the schools themselves, the candidates, those who hire graduates, and the broader profession that it serves.
Empty moving boxes perch on filled ones all through LJ’s offices. One of them now contains a record I’ll look forward to referencing in another nine years. As our staff gear up to move to a new space, I focused on weeding paper documents that had migrated from one workspace to the next. Packing can be a process of discovery. Among the fossils excavated was a blue folder holding the agenda and notes from a think tank, “2020 Vision: Idaho Libraries Futures Conference,” held in Boise in August 2005.
I have a theory that too many library trustees are underutilized in their board work. In far too many libraries, fear of meddling and of losing control have meant that directors don’t take advantage of the expertise and talent on their Board of Trustees. Where that is true, library leaders are squandering critical capacity and losing a potent edge in the key task of connecting to the community.
In May, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would be ending its Global Libraries program over the next three to five years. This decision marks the beginning of the end of a tremendous philanthropic investment that helped spur significant innovation in U.S. libraries and speed the growth of public libraries in developing countries. I’ll admit it, the news took my breath away.