Rich Harwood is an author, public speaker, and the founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to change in the public sphere. Since its establishment in 1998, the institute has worked with such partners as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, and the United Way Worldwide, as well as civic groups across the country, to help them develop innovation strategies guided by community engagement.
When documentary filmmakers Lucie Faulknor and Dawn Logsdon were evacuated to Baton Rouge, LA from their home in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, they were struck by the essential role played by the library in the days following the disaster. Staff at the State Library of Louisiana worked long hours to help people locate missing family members, friends, and pets, fill out FEMA forms, communicate with insurance companies, and use the library computers. “They had an assembly line to give everybody a library card,” Faulknor said, “and we realized that librarians were also first responders.”
Opinion | From Vicious to Virtuous: The collapse of U.K. libraries and unbreaking the cycle of library support
Earlier this month, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) released its annual statistics on library use in the U.K. CIPFA found that the number of patrons borrowing books from U.K. libraries has halved since 1997. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been following the ongoing financial crisis that’s engulfed those public libraries across the pond. It demonstrates what happens to libraries when they’re not supported by the communities they serve.
One of the many reasons Alberta’s Edmonton Public Library (EPL) was chosen as Gale/LJ Library of the Year for 2014 is its commitment to community services. In particular, EPL’s outreach program to support the city’s homeless population is a necessary initiative in a rapidly growing urban center—Canada’s fifth-largest municipality—where temperatures rarely rise above freezing from November through March. Not only has the program survived the loss of its province-based funding, with the library system itself stepping in to cover costs, but this winter EPL’s outreach will expand to five additional branches on a pilot basis.
Acting on a complaint from a Mecklenburg County (NC) commissioner, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) officials last week removed signs providing information about a referendum on a proposed sales tax increase, which would benefit the library, from all 14 branches serving as early voting locations.
Susan H. Hildreth was appointed director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) by President Barack Obama on January 19, 2011. Her nomination had been confirmed by the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent on December 22, 2010. Prior to joining IMLS, Hildreth served as Seattle city librarian, California state librarian, and San Francisco city librarian, as well as president of the Public Library Association in 2006. Under her leadership, IMLS made $857,241,000 in total grants to libraries and museums. As Hildreth’s four-year term draws to a close, she shares with LJ some of what she learned at the head of the institute and what she hopes the library community will build on in the future.
Much of the mainstream media coverage concerning libraries these days is focused on the challenges they face, escalating budget cuts, and questions about their relevance in today’s world. Library resource vendor Gale, part of Cengage Learning, wants to help turn those perceptions around and show libraries in a more positive light. On September 30 Gale launched My Library Story (MLS), an online community where people can share the many different ways libraries have changed and enriched their lives.
Only about 12 percent of an average U.S. library budget is for books and other content. Antilibrary zealots will latch onto this statistic eventually, downplaying that libraries are about much more than books. A good proactive response would be a national digital library endowment and separate but allied digital library systems—one for public library patrons, the other mainly for academia, even though everyone could access both. New digital efficiencies could help libraries offer taxpayers even more value than they do now.