Few libraries were untouched by the economic downturn of the 2000s. As systems began to rebound, however, a challenge was to replace the perception that they were down and out with the new reality of extended hours, replenished staff, and improved services. The strongest marketers among them also focused on the stories behind those comebacks, and information about what users could expect going forward. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML), in the city of Charlotte and County of Mecklenburg, NC, was determined not just to recover but to come back stronger than ever, to make sure its customers knew it—and to give them a chance to tell their side of the story.
The modern library movement began in 1876, a year that saw the birth of both the American Library Association (ALA) and Library Journal (LJ). The January 1, 1976, issue of LJ celebrated that centennial, asking 25 experts and leading librarians to project the future of libraries over the next 25–50 years. Now on LJ’s 140th anniversary, we’ve taken a sampling of those forecasts and briefly assessed their accuracy. The result is evidence of how inadequate current knowledge is to predict the future.
Melanie Colletti was on desk in the Denver Public Library’s (DPL) technology center when she recognized a woman at a computer who’d been a participant in the library’s “Free To Learn” job seekers program the previous year. “She seemed easily frustrated but very intelligent, and I was disappointed when she didn’t return for her third session,” says Colletti. She asked the woman how she was doing, and, to Colletti’s delight, the woman had used the résumé they’d worked on to get a job and had been employed ever since. “Even though it didn’t seem like we were connecting with her, I guess we were.”
Often expressed informally through back channels, there’s a strong contrarian strand of thought that holds librarianship—if not all of American society—spends too much time, energy, and ink trying to predict what’s next. Too great a focus on the future, say such skeptics, shortchanges the present, preventing practitioners from being “in the moment,” and can make library leaders devalue the work that still comprises the vast majority of interactions to chase trends that appeal to, at best, a much smaller subset of users.
Formats proliferate while budgets fluctuate. Patrons want access to public library materials but may never physically enter a library building. Collection development librarians work to ensure that their holdings include the items patrons want at the time they require access. We talked to collection development professionals nationwide to discover their best practices for selecting and maintaining print and electronic materials.
Human-centered design, a highly creative approach to problem solving, is gaining popularity in libraries as they plan for what lies ahead. Also known as design thinking, it focuses on defining and then resolving concerns by paying attention to the needs, aspirations, and wishes of people—in the case of libraries, not only a library’s patrons but its staff, administration, and members of the community who may not be library customers…yet.
Everyone has a book in them, it’s said. While Christopher Hitchens completed that phrase with “in most cases that’s where it should stay,” it doesn’t seem the public agrees. This is dramatically demonstrated by the expansion of U.S. publishing, as measured by Bowker, the U.S. issuer of ISBNs, the numbers that help track book sales. In 2002, Bowker issued 247,777. In 2012 (the most recent figures available), demand rose to 2,352,797—an increase of 2,105,020, or a whopping 849.5 percent.
In Library: An Unquiet History, historian and curatorial fellow for Harvard’s metaLAB Matthew Battles describes Melvil Dewey’s impatience with inefficiency in library work in the 1870s. “To Dewey, local interests and special needs were less important than the efficient movement of books into the hands of readers,” he writes. That crisp statement of purpose should be an inspiration to the current discussions around making library collections and programs visible and available on the web.
Recently, I was teaching a privacy class for librarians, and the topic turned to the privacy versus convenience trade-off—the occasional annoyances of using privacy-enhancing technologies online. An audience member laid out what she felt I was asking of the group. “You’re telling us to start selling granola when everyone else is running a candy store.”
With a slew of superheroes getting the big screen treatment in recent years, comic books are gaining even more cachet as a cultural touchstone. Big-budget blockbusters and critically acclaimed TV spin-offs have helped to spawn a new generation of comic book fans and reignited the spark in former readers, while alternative titles bring in fans who aren’t the superhero type (see “Picture the Possibilities,” LJ 6/15/16, p. 30ff.). Meanwhile, sf has long since gained mainstream acceptance without losing its ability to stir deep devotion (witness the plethora of Doctor Who merchandise), and anime and manga are reaching ever-larger portions of the American populace, particularly among teens and new adults. Board and card games, too, are seeing a dramatic resurgence in popularity alongside their high-tech counterparts, and once under-the-radar fanfiction and fan art are now far more widely known and accepted.