April 24, 2018

Libraries Should Be What Users Want—With a Little Help from Librarians | Editorial

As many of us here at LJ gear up to attend the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the future of libraries. To quote political muckraker Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it works.” Unfortunately, Steffens was referring to the post–World War I Soviet Union, and we all know how that turned out. I feel a bit more confident, however, about the future I see.

The future is vibrant—and it is working—in Colorado, where LJ held its 12th Design Institute (DI), visited area libraries that reflect and respond to their communities, and heard from both librarians and architects about new library spaces for collaboration and creation. It’s engaged in upstate New York, at Fayetteville Free Library (FFL). There, Director Sue Considine and transliteracy development director Lauren Britton have launched a Fab Lab for creation of physical products—and those can be as high-tech as what comes out of a 3-D MakerBot or as low-tech as the product and designs of a crochet group, which can be made into a book to inspire others. (For more on maker spaces, listen to the OCLC/LJ webinar, Made in a Library.)

It’s all-encompassing at Skokie Public Library in Illinois, which has a digital media lab for adults, not just teens or college students. It’s confirmed in LJ’s Patron Profiles (going online soon, in print p. 50–51), which reports that power e-users “aren’t choosing the web over coming to the library in person…they are choosing to do both.”

The message is the same all over: libraries are not just warehouses for books but places of creation and community. They’re not just information sources but maker spaces and social spaces. They’re places that “make us want to linger,” as MS&R architect Traci Lesneski put it at the DI at Denver Public Library last month. When Dan Meehan, HBM Architects, asked the roomful of librarians how many thought their libraries would have 25, 50, or 75 percent fewer print books in ten years, most hands shot up at 50 percent.

Librarians have already started planning for that change. Like Considine, they’ve begun repurposing their collection development dollars. “Lauren [Britton] came knocking at my door—she was a circulation clerk—with her idea [for a maker space] at a time we were looking at our budget,” says Considine, “examining what we do, what we should not do…. We want to help the community create content, not merely consume it…to provide access [to tools to achieve] their hopes, dreams, aspirations…. Librarians do that every day already.”

The particulars may vary, but the thinking is the same. Find out what your users want and “what they don’t even know they need,” said Louise Schaper at the DI, channeling Steve Jobs. (Schaper is project lead on LJ’s New Landmark Libraries; the latest round of winners, academic buildings, will be revealed in July.)

Despite all the talk of downsizing collections, libraries aren’t abandoning the book brand, or the collection. Joseph Sanchez (instructional designer at Auraria Library at the University of Colorado, Denver; a panelist at both the DI and the OCLC/LJ webinar; and a 2011 LJ Mover & Shaker) has helped lead development of the ebook purchase (not license) model at Douglas County Libraries, CO (see “Momentum Builds for DCL’s Ebook Model,”). His vision goes much further, with a collection development policy that would add the audio, video, ­ebooks, and “physibles” (digital objects that can become physical) that the library user creates to the library’s holdings. It dovetails with Britton’s idea at FFL. “In a read/write culture,” she says, “[library users] write their own book and make two copies: one to take home, one to be cataloged.”

In Sanchez’s plan, library users/creators donate one copy to the library of origin to be cataloged and circulated. They can sell the digital file or product to other libraries at fair market value. “Here’s thousands of libraries willing to distribute your creation if you agree to sell, not license it,” says Sanchez.

With minds like these in the library field, it’s no wonder the future looks like it really does work.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.

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  1. Dan Nixon says:

    What a bunch of balloon-juice. Here we go again, hopping onto the next big thing. I’m sorry. Give the people what they want and you become an enabler of fat for the brain, the equivalent of a McDonald’s for the intellect. No substance, no nutrition, just pulp and passing fads. I will always maintain that if free public libraries follow the prime directive – to make freely available to the public all the best that’s been recorded – they will always have a place in society because nobody else is providing that service. Yeah, yeah, so what do you say is “the best” mister smartypants? Stuff written by dead white men? You know what makes the grade, that which has stood the test of time. The technology is irrelevant, whatever the preservation/delivery media that provides the widest access. Now what would that look like?