Libraries are all about access to information in its many forms, and librarians have a long and admirable tradition of striving to increase that access whenever they can. Several recent events have spurred me to think about real-world barriers—visible and invisible—and how seeing them in light of access to the library could influence services.
Five years ago, a burning question evolved into what is now the ongoing New Landmark Libraries (NLL) project. Often in conversation with librarians on the verge of construction, I was asked which libraries should be on a “must see” list. Beyond the go-to, big name projects, we at LJ had our favorites recently opened, but our lists were personal and not comprehensive. Hence, the New Landmark Libraries. The national competition was designed to bring forward the excellence in library buildings for celebration, as a tour planner for those approaching a capital project, and as a road map for the next generation of libraries still not even on the boards.
It’s easy to see why students want to camp out at the new library at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI. I had the opportunity to see it in person last month when I attended the Re-think It: Libraries for a New Age conference on campus. The space itself is incredible—as is the response to the critical questions that drove the design and programming of services delivered at what is now the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons.
The American Library Association (ALA) took a crucial step when it passed the Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries at the association’s annual meeting in San Francisco. Now we as a profession face the complex work ahead to make the goals of the resolution real. We have this collective articulation to lean on to make it a priority in a holistic sense—across strategic planning, space design, community engagement, and educational outreach. It is critical that we redouble our efforts.
All eyes are on the Library of Congress (LC) as the iconic institution approaches what promises to be a transformational time. When long-standing Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced his plan to retire in January 2016, bets started flying on who would be the best new leader. The job, to be filled by President Barack Obama’s appointment, with confirmation from Congress, is an exciting and challenging one.
As last summer waned, the library in Ferguson, MO, seemed an unlikely source for a most inspiring illustration of librarianship in action. The library was running on a shoestring budget, and the new director (and sole full-time employee) had taken over scant weeks before. But when that community was wracked by violent protest in the wake of the August 9 death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer, the library emerged as a critical asset, staying open and creating programs on the fly to respond to the turmoil. The library countered the chaos and fear with calm reassurance that the people of Ferguson were supported by a shared resource that was also a “quiet oasis”—a safe place to be, to recover their bearings, but also to learn more about what was happening and why.
An inspirational level of collaboration has been undertaken between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed at the end of 2014 has set in motion deeper cross-cultural collaborations and opened opportunities to expand efforts already under way between these sister cities divided by one of the busiest international borders in the world.
The legislative budget season triggers a tense cycle for libraries, and this year is no different. State library funding comes under attack, and library advocates mount a defense. Where wisdom prevails, the lines are upheld or even increased, bolstering the key infrastructure libraries bring to our communities. Where short-term thinking trumps strategic insight, the lines get trimmed and trimmed, gaining a relatively minor lift to the state’s bottom line while putting at risk small but significant programs that interconnect our valuable public library resources—and serve as a critical conduit for federal funds to reinforce service.
The 2016 presidential primary activity and election may provide libraries with an unmatched opportunity to show their stuff. As candidates officially jump into the race, voters are already inundated by an unprecedented volume of information and perspectives—not to mention the onslaught of misinformation and distractions. As the pace heats up, potential voters will need help engaging in the process, and voters will need more help than ever sorting out the facts on the real issues and learning what they need to make their own decisions.
We talk a lot about resilience when we discuss library sustainability. It is one of the trends identified by Miguel Figueroa, an LJ 2005 Mover & Shaker, in the recent “Forecasting the Future of Libraries” report. It encompasses a broad swath of library work—dynamic programming, deep and robust community commitment to the well-being of the institution, and facility design that can withstand the very real threats of extreme weather change that comes with global warming. Resilience also means creating buildings that don’t drain precious natural resources.