Paper Cloud is something to see, though it’s actually impossible to see it all at once. This “aerial sculpture” by George Peters and Melanie Walker has resonated with me since I saw it in 2014 during a tour of several facilities in the Salt Lake County Libraries (SLCL) system. The installation flies, floats, and wends its way through the West Jordan Library and the library’s Viridian Event Center, elevating the spaces and the people using them.
North Carolina’s adoption of the so-called “bathroom bill” (House Bill 2, also known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act) on March 23 has been rightly denounced for building bias and discrimination into state law and barring cities from extending protections for transgender individuals. It should go without saying that wholesale bigotry against members of a group is unacceptable and unconstitutional. This legislation is a travesty and an assault on our civil liberties.
Last month, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released a series of articles on the status of public libraries in the UK. The news is dramatic. More than 300 libraries have been closed since 2010—the reported total of 343 includes 132 mobile libraries, with over 100 more on the chopping block—and almost 8,000 jobs have been lost. The advocacy drumbeat for UK libraries has been sounding for some time, with prominent authors and celebrities offering their support. Staring down the numbers reported by the BBC has spurred a barrage of public and professional response—some reinforcing negative stereotypes and others helping to build the case for more investment.
This summer, Columbus, OH, will be the center of the library world when the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) brings its annual World Library and Information Congress there, August 13–19. For many U.S. librarians, this meeting, which last came to the States in 2001, provides rare access to the global sharing active members of IFLA experience each year. If you haven’t yet considered attending, do so soon, as it promises to be a robust conclave of some 4,000 librarians from all over the world. Witnessing the global nature of this work, and sharing with colleagues from some 120 countries, should be inspiring and will, hopefully, spark many significant and lasting connections.
The Library of Congress (LC) is due for a turnaround, and with President Barack Obama’s announcement that Dr. Carla D. Hayden is his pick to be the new Librarian of Congress, promise is in the air. The library community has benefited from her leadership for decades. More important, the people of Baltimore, where Hayden has led the Enoch Pratt Free Library since 1993, have seen and lived what this creative leader is capable of when faced with a daunting challenge. She converted a dire situation there into a vital, responsive system. I am inspired by Hayden’s vision of LC as everyone’s library. She is a leader who can make that real in a way it never has been before.
Innovation Catalyst Librarian, Wikipedian in Residence, Director of Knowledge Curation and Innovation. These are just three of the job titles emerging in libraries that indicate the dynamism of the field. They point to libraries as a destination for talent seeking a great place to develop a career while making a contribution. Long misunderstood in the popular psyche as a haven of employment for those who just love to read, libraries are complex service organizations with opportunities to get paid to do good work for a lifetime. As they have evolved, so have the particular jobs available, and now is an exceptionally interesting time to think of the library as the place to dedicate the bulk of one’s waking hours. Along the way, libraries are looking more and more like the innovative employer every community should have humming at its core.
Last month the Park Ridge Public Library, IL, approved fees for those using the facility for business purposes. On its face, this decision runs counter to the burgeoning interest in libraries embracing a workforce that is increasingly outside the office by developing coworking spaces and gathering essential tools to enable them to succeed. On a deeper level, it runs counter to the ingenuity involved in continually removing barriers to access—even barriers constructed to keep the use of the library fair, such as overdue fines—and this I find much more problematic and worth contemplating.
Trend watching is always fun, but it becomes an annual exercise when the New Year arrives and outfits large and small seize the moment to attempt to encapsulate the forces at work in their spheres. With the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting held so early this year, the 2016 trends deep dive dovetailed, for me, with the many conversations I had in Boston, which as usual ranged from essentially functional to highly aspirational, pinging between today’s pressures and tomorrow’s promise. It struck me that our collective work balances in that space, sometimes more precariously than others.
Librarians have MUCH to be proud of in the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The long-awaited rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, most recently also known as No Child Left Behind) sailed though both the Senate and House to arrive in front of President Obama, making it one of the few signs of functional bipartisanship in a rough year for getting stuff done on the hill. As the president signed ESSA into law on December 10, he referred to its arrival as “a Christmas miracle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries as infrastructure and why we—as voters and taxpayers—don’t demand that our dollars be used for their upkeep and refurbishment to meet changing needs and help spur community growth. Libraries usually do well at the polls, and this year is no exception, with the majority of bonds passing. The local nature of libraries obscures the larger view: a varied patchwork of support for a national treasure. Several things have me thinking there may be a way to reshape the local conversation against the national backdrop.