A time of Thanksgiving…


During the lovely Thanksgiving week, I find myself reflecting on what I am Thankful for this year. As always I am deeply thankful for my family and my life. I am also thankful for this amazing profession that I love so much. This year has been especially fulfilling and inspirational.

I, like many librarians, found my way into the profession through a deep and abiding love for the books of my childhood. My parents, especially my Mother, made sure that I was always surrounded by books of every shape, size, and subject. And she instilled in me an understanding that reading and access to books was my right!

When I was in 5th grade she took me to see Gone with the Wind on the big screen and then took me right to the bookstore and bought me the paperback (all 1037 pages of it!). When I took it to school for personal reading time, my 5th grade teacher snatched it up and stated it was TOO far above my reading level (not true!). I will never forget my Mother (no shrinking violet on ANY day) marching into that school and informing the teacher that I was the ONLY one who determined what was and was NOT in my reading level and that I would read whatever I choose to read! That moment has never left me and I will always be thankful to her.

So, at this time of Thanksgiving I thought it would be lovely to share the books from our past that we are all Thankful for that have shaped our love of books! Here are mine, Please share yours in the comments!

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
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The “A Wrinkle in Time” trilogy by Madeline L’Engle
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Peppermints in the Parlor by Peter Ferguson and Barbara Brooks Wallace
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Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
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Wingfin and Topple by Evans G. Valens
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How Fletcher was Hatched by Wende & Harry Devlin
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Every Clifford the Big Red Dog, Berenstain Bears, and Nancy Drew book!!
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And Last but not least…… Thanks for ensuring that I can include this as one of the books of my ‘Childhood’ Mom!
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
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The Public Library as the 21st Century Agora


Last week I spent an amazing eight days in the birthplace of democracy – Athens, Greece.
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Along with the wonderful people, the amazing food (Thanks for the extra 8 pounds moussaka and tzatziki!), to be surrounded by that much history was inspiring. I had the opportunity to see so many ancient wonders including the Parthenon, Hadrian’s library (the emperors gift to one of his favorite cities), and magnificent Temple of Zeus. I was particularly taken with the ancient Agora.

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This was the place of Socrates and Plato. Where conversations birthed new ideas and new worlds.

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Socrates in the Agora Harry Bates

From Heather Whipps in LiveScience

http://www.livescience.com/4861-greek-agora-changed-world.html

What went on at the agora went beyond the simple daily transactions of the market. The conversations that happened there and the ideas that they bore continue to affect us to this day, from the way scientists carry out their work to how we pass our laws.
Nearly every city of ancient Greece had an agora – meaning meeting place – by about 600 B.C., when the classical period of Greek civilization began to flourish. Usually located near the center of town, the agora was easily accessible to every citizen…
The agora of Athens – the hub of ancient Greek civilization – was the size of several football fields and saw heavy traffic every single day of the week. Women didn’t often frequent the agora, but every other character in ancient Greece passed through its columns: politicians, criminals, philosophers and traders, aristocrats, scientists, officials and slaves….
Some of the world’s most important ideas were born and perfected within the confines of the Athenian agora including, famously, the concept of democracy….
The Athenian democratic process, whereby issues were discussed in a forum and then voted on, is the basis for most modern systems of governance.
Scientific theory also got its start in the agora, where the city’s greatest minds regularly met informally to socialize. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all frequented the Athenian agora, discussed philosophy and instructed pupils there.
Aristotle, in particular, is known for his contributions to science, and may have developed his important theories on the empirical method, zoology and physics, among others, while chatting in the agora’s food stalls or sitting by its fountains.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and its Hippocratic Oath, and Pythagoras, a mathematician who developed the geometric theory of a triangle’s sides, were both highly public figures who taught and shared ideas in their own hometown agoras.

So this set me to pondering…where is our Agora today? Some might say it can be found on our university campuses and certainly there is great thought and conversation happening in those spaces. However, when looked at critically, we can agree that these are not common areas where any and all citizens are welcome to freely wander and participate in discussions as they please. So where do these conversations on any and all topics between random citizens occur?
I know we can all see how vital these spaces and conversations were in ancient times to advance society and human knowledge among ALL citizens and not simply a select few – thus the basis for a democratic process and society. But are these conversations still necessary today?

In my time in Athens I noticed many heavily armed police. I have traveled extensively and this is not an unusual sight in my experience.  That said – this still felt like more than normal.
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My hotel was perfectly situated on Syntagma Square just catty-corner to the Greek parliament building, and during my stay I witnessed several small non-violent demonstrations.

My companion and I asked our hotel concierge what the signs said and what the protests were about, and they simply shrugged it off as “students being students” and “unhappy with various issues in the government”. Again nothing that was surprising! Certainly we are used to seeing signs and demonstrations in front of our own capital building in Washington DC. In fact, I thought to myself it was fascinating to see democracy in action in the “birthplace of democracy”.
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Unfortunately, what we witnessed was not the end and mere hours after leaving our hotel those simple demonstrations took a much more drastic turn:
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Shocking to say the least and certainly grateful that I had booked my return flight for that day, the entire episode left me thinking. How a city known as the birthplace of democracy home of the ancient Agora can turn so dramatically to a place where individuals feel their only option for change is that type of demonstration. Where have the days of the ancient Agora and the conversations that shaped civilization gone?

This is not a political blog nor would I ever dream of tackling the immensely difficult and complex issues that brought about the images in those photos- my world is Libraries- specifically Public Libraries. The culmination of a week spent walking among these ancient places steeped in the ideals of what a democratic society should and can be left me pondering the role of the public library. As I have repeatedly asserted that mission of the Public Library should be to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government, Part and Parcel with that information comes the conversations that it generates, and that in turn generate new information. The very same type of conversations that the Ancient Agora enabled. We talk about the public library as a community gathering place or living room. We talk often about the public library as a space for open conversation. In truth, there are not many of those such places left in our society. If that is the case, then it becomes even more important for the public library to actively promote the use of our spaces for such conversations. Bearing in mind that I am not suggesting the library and staff as facilitators or creators of content, simply creators of a space that is open to all, free of judgment or restriction, where the access to information we provide can be utilized as an inspiration and jumping off point for conversations about the very serious issues we face as a society.

We talked about how our programming, maker spaces, gathering spaces, books, digital content, and community conversations fit together and define the library of tomorrow. Perhaps it can be summed up most perfectly in the simple notion that all those offerings combine to make the 21st Century Public Library the 21st Century Agora.

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21st Century Libraries Abound in Denmark!


Now fully recuperated from the jet lag, I have had time to reflect on my amazing experiences during my time in Denmark as a guest of the Danish Union of Librarians. I was invited as a closing keynote for their Annual Conference to discuss the Challenges Facing 21st Century Librarians. It was fascinating a I will be blogging about the variety of experiences I had and the issues we explored together during my time with these amazing Librarians.

But today I simply would like to thank all of the amazing people I met. They were proud, professional, generous, open and knowledgeable. I can honestly say that this sign as I left the Copenhagen Airport was true!

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Thank you to all those who attended my keynote. Thank you for your interest, your frank and open questions about the future of libraries in Denmark and the USA, and your warm response.

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Thank you to the Administration and Staff of the Copenhagen Business School for the tour of your stunning facility, for the fabulous lunch, and the inspiring conversation about the future of academic libraries, the Death of the book and the library as a physical space! Much food for thought!!

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Thank you to the Librarians of Global Information & Analysis, Novo Nordisk. It goes without saying that your facility is simply spectacular. However, more importantly, your thoughts on our profession in the context of corporate services and information analysis were thought provoking. I had never considered the application of our professional skill to the many services you have created for your clientele. It opened new windows of ideas for me! Thank you!

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During my time in the lovely country of Denmark I had the honor of visiting so many libraries. However, for all their grandeur and beauty, none touched my heart quite as much as the Tårnby Kommunebiblioteker (Public Library at Taarnby) outside of Copenhagen. To the Director and his staff, thank you so much for allowing me to visit, for taking the time to share you daily experiences with me, and for a truly enlightening conversation that changed forever the way I think of MakerSpaces.

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In addition to the Keynote speech, I was also invited to present at the Royal School of Information Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you to the many faculty and students who attended. We had such a fabulous time that the event went hours longer than intended! Thank you all for the stimulating discussions and questions.

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And finally, I would not be complete without thanking again the Danish Union of Librarians for hosting me. You gave me a unique professional experience that has left me with fresh ideas and new perspectives.

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And last but not least, I must thank by name my contact, host and tour guide– Niels Bergmann. Niels- a thank you simply is not enough. You were generous of spirit, thoughtful in your preparation of my agenda, and professional. You have represented your country, your profession, and your fellow Danes in a way that will forever leave me with fond memories of Denmark, its libraries, and its people. Thank you. Truly.

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The 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift?


Someone recently viewed an old post of mine (Dr. Steve) from June, 2010, Are We in a 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift?, and that made me realize that I should revise my assertions about a paradigm shift in librarianship, based on my current understanding of the state of American libraries and ‘paradigm shift.’

I wrote;

In my opinion we are. However, it is different from the paradigm shift we all discussed 15 years ago [beginning in the mid-1990s] that was a result of the introduction of the Internet and WWW into the average American office, university, school and home. That shift was essentially about delivery of library services. There wasn’t much change in philosophy of library science, but it changed delivery of library information from on-site to online. The concern that the WWW would replace librarians was exaggerated and didn’t materialize, because we retained our “information specialists” role who knew the How and What of information retrieval and evaluation. Everything evolves, from card catalogs to OPAC, but it was about delivery.

Today there are different factors influencing the library profession that make a paradigm shift inevitable and essential, based on my assessment of the literature. The most profound factor is the change evolving among youth toward information literacy that will challenge librarian’s “information specialists” role. Within the next 10 years librarians will not be THE only “information specialists” who are able to retrieve and assess information.

I went on to write other posts about the nature of paradigm shifts, its manifestation in the librarian profession, and how the profession needed to recognize and embrace that shift. If you’re interested in those discussions, just type paradigm shift in the Search window.

In those earlier posts I described the shift as;

Evidence has convinced me that the 21st Century Library Paradigm is that libraries will be defined by those librarians running them and their local community more than by the profession, or SLIS, or any librarian associations’ standards.

My current thinking is that we are in a shift, but the nature of that shift is now clearly (to me) from a librarian-centric philosophy to a user-centric philosophy, NOT simply that local librarians will define the local library. Since library users are local, obviously the user-centric philosophy will be implemented locally.

When Kimberly posted Public Libraries Must Agree Upon a Mission If We Are to Survive last month, our subsequent conversations made me realize that a true “paradigm shift” should accompany a significant shift in mission. That was not the case in my assessment of future librarianship. The fundamental mission of libraries is … to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government., and I believe that will never change – significantly.

I also realized that I was one of those who got caught up in the hype of changing the image and re-inventing ourselves, when all we were experiencing in the profession was clearly a lack of confidence in our mission, our reason for being, which lead to a scramble for a new mission – a new reason for being librarians. All we really needed was a new vision for achieving our fundamental mission in an evolving environment that demanded a shift from a librarian-centric to a user-centric philosophy. Even though we may no longer be the only “information specialists”, that doesn’t mean the core mission and values of the library have actually shifted to something else.

All that has shifted, and should shift, is the focus of librarianship, thus libraries, from the long held librarian-centric philosophy to a 21st Century user-centric philosophy. That in itself is significant.

[For those of you interested, read my post 21st Century Librarianship vs. The 1876 Special Report that reviews the state of librarianship in early America, and the roots of that old librarian-centric philosophy.]

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21st Century Libraries- Innovation, Information and High School Diplomas!


[Dear Reader-While I have made the decision that I will only include details about my own library very sparingly on this blog- I prefer to rely on my experiences in broad strokes rather than specifics about my current library- I felt that yesterday marked a milestone I would be remiss if I did not share. I certainly would have blogged about it if I had seen it in the news at any other Library.  So here you have it:]

Beginning October 9, 2014, Trenton Free Public Library will offer Trenton residents the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma at the Library at no cost.

This program, an initiative brought to public libraries by Cengage Learning/Gale, is the world’s first accredited, private online school district. Career Online High School and is specifically designed to reengage adults into the education system and prepare them for entry into post-secondary career education or the workforce. This is NOT a GED program. Successful graduates will earn a high school diploma and a career certification through an accredited high school. Learning and literacy will be accessible to students in a non-traditional, online environment, allowing them to take classes remotely or at their local public library. Adult students will have the ability to select a career pathway and gain career skills in high-demand job disciplines. Upon completion of the program, these students will be able to combine literacy skills with occupational skills.

With Library budgets stretched as they are, you may be wondering, “How on Earth did they afford such a program?” As with so many wonderful things that come to libraries, it came in the form of an award (grant).

Select New Jersey Libraries will begin offering Online Certified High School Programs to their Patrons from the University Herald Oct 8, 2014:

New Jersey residents will have the opportunity to earn accredited high school diplomas and credentialed career certificates through six public libraries.

“Libraries are evolving beyond books into true educational institutions and Gale is delighted to be the partner to make that happen,” Frank Menchaca, senior vice president for global product management at Gale, said in a statement. “This is the first statewide implementation of Career Online High School and we can’t wait to see the impact it will have on communities and the students themselves.”

“This innovative project is the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age into full-fledged community resources,” said Mary Chute, New Jersey State Librarian. “New Jersey’s libraries are committed to supporting the development of a well-educated and well-trained workforce, which will enable New Jersey’s employers to compete in the global market.”

New Jersey residents interested in the Career Online High School program should visit www.njstatelib.org/yourdiploma.

 

Now, if you are like me, you are probably thinking “Wow. I always read these stories but how do libraries actually GET these awards/grants?!” Well this is how it happened for us:

In January of this year I read an article that literally made me pick up the phone and call Gale Cengage- not the next day but that very moment! This was that article:

LA Public Library to Offer High School Diplomas! CBS News Jan 9, 2014.

and this was the quote that really made me sit up and think:

“The exciting thing about public libraries is they are places people trust,” he [Howard A. Liebman of Gale] said. “So people, who may have felt ashamed about not having a high school diploma, will feel safe going there to get one.”

Public Libraries ARE a place of trust, acceptance, support, and openness that can create the perfect “judgement free” zone for this type of program. In addition, as a stong proponent of the Public LIbrary’s mission to support the existance of an ‘Informed Citizenry’ this was a no brainer! I HAD to have this program at my Library!!

So, like a crazed shop-a-holic watching the HSN at 2am, I picked up the phone and called Gale’s sales department. They politely informed me that they had no information on the product but someone would return my call. SIGH! Thwarted!! But wait- they said they would call and so they did! In the form of Brian Risse, Vice President – National Sales Manager, Public Libraries Cengage Learning- Gale. And by February I had him live and in person in my office making the sales pitch. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, despite my deepest desires, we were unable to acquire the program as the cost was simply outside our grasp.

But wait! Luckily for us, the NJ State Library had the same vision and was able to secure funding for the initiative from the NJ Department of Labor and this summer it was announced that they would begin accepting applications for Libraries wishing to participate.

So, after months of writing, meetings with community partners and the installation of a computer classroom funded by Community Development Block Grant monies, our application to be selected for the New Jersey pilot program to offer the Career Online High School was accepted and we rejoiced! From the first article on Jan 9th to the launch on October 6th- nearly 9 months elapsed and it does feel a bit like we have ‘given birth’ to something truly special.

As with many urban communities the educational situation in Trenton is a near constant topic of concern and conversation. This year the State “report card” lists us dead last in NJ- again- with a drop out rate of 48%.  The situation is dire!  But while there are many committed, smart people working on solutions for today and tomorrow’s students…what about yesterday’s?  There are an estimated 13,000 Trentonians in their 20s&30s without a High School diploma.  ANY educational solutions for our Schools will be too late for them.  THIS program is a real solution with the potential to start having a REAL impact with real High School graduates as soon this Spring! 

Earning a high school diploma is a life-changing achievement. By offering this opportunity through public libraries rather than ONLY in a ‘for-profit’ model by institutions of higher learning (as it has been previously) , we are empowering our library patrons to seek new opportunities and transform their lives. We are helping to solidify our core mission “to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.” in a fundamental way. A High School Diploma!

Is it ideal that anyone does or must leave school before graduation? Of course NOT! Do we want our young people to stay in school and graduate in the natural course? Of Course!! And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where no one ever stumbled, life was easy, and we all chose wisely the first time around? It would! But how many decisions in life do you regret? How many times do you wish you could call a do-over? Unfortunately that opportunity is rare. But imagine if that regretted decision concerned something as fundamental to your existence and participation in our society as your high school diploma? Now imagine if you were offered a second chance? This program is that concept in practice and goes directly to the heart of our Mission.

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21st Century Library Blog goes to Denmark!


It is with much pleasure that I announce that I will be the closing keynote speaker at the Danish Union of Librarians’ annual conference “Snapshot! – The Librarian in 2014″ on Sunday October 26, 2014 in Nyborg Strand, Denmark. The Conference announcement is at this link.

The Danish Union of Librarians (“Bibliotekarforbundet”) conference will focus on “the professional dna” of the librarian – focus on the profession, on the skills and the identity of the librarian.  The blog posts that caught their interest and generated the invitation were written by my father, Dr. Stephen Matthews, and include:   “Five Challenges Every Librarian Must Face” , “A Sixth Challenge Every Librarian Must Face”, and You May Be A 21st Century Librarian If You”.  They are exceptional blogs and remain some of the top visited on this site.  Based on each of our schedules, it was determined that I would attend and make the presentation.

In addition to the conference, my time with the librarians of Denmark will include visits to various libraries, a lunch at the Librarian House, an interview with “Perspektiv” (Perspective), the magazine of the Danish Union of Librarians, and last but certainly not least a 2 hour presentation on the past, present and future of American Libraries at the University of Copenhagen’s Royal School of Library and Information Science.

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Stay tuned to hear more about the upcoming trip, my experiences with the Danish Librarians, and more!!
For additional fascinating information about the Danish Librarians Union visit this link.

 

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Public Libraries Must Agree Upon a Mission If We Are to Survive


As Librarians we are repeatedly told that the average person doesn’t really know what the Library does. We worry about this. We recognize that this lack of understanding leads to reduced funding, marginalization, and potentially worse fates. We discuss at length how to address the problem. We market. We advocate. We promote. And still we hear from surveys and studies that people “love the Library” but they aren’t really sure what we do or offer. The more frighting notion is that by not understanding what we do they cannot truly understand why we exist.

I consider the folks at Forbes to be a fairly intelligent group (ok-there might be a few non-MENSAs in the group but lets not fight the hypo..); but look at this article by David Vinjamuri

” …public libraries in America: they are dynamic, versatile community centers. They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen. More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. They used this access, among other purposes to “find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments” For all this, public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.”
“Public libraries for their part have been slow to react to the dramatic changes in publishing and reading that threaten their ability to fulfill their core mission of promoting reading. By focusing too heavily on giving patrons access to bestsellers and popular movies, libraries risk missing the significant opportunity afforded by the explosion in the number of new books published each year.”

So Mr. Vinamuri is pretty clear that we are community centers whose core Mission is reading. Really? Hmm…I thought we were about Information.

As a professional who has spent considerable time on the topic of Strategic Planning, Mission Statements are a go-to for me when I want to know why an organization exists. So I began pondering the correlation between this apparently massive disconnect between our efforts to advocate ourselves and the public lack of understanding of Libraries. I found something startling: We have created this confusion!!

If you spend 15 minutes searching every Library that pops to mind and you read their mission statements you will discover, as I did, that they are ALL over the map. In addition, so many of them are filled with the latest trending buzzwords/phrases such as: life-long learning, community gathering place, advance knowledge, community anchor, bringing people together, foster creativity and so on. What I did not see was a cohesive presentation of the mission/purpose of the Public Library. Next I turned to ALA documents and other professional sources and while I could find bits and pieces…I never found a clear, concise statement of WHY we (the Free Public LIbrary) exist. Even Wikipedia failed me! What I did repeatedly find was that the main task of a Public LIbrary is to lend books and other materials. Great! BUT WHY??!!

So, if you cannot find- you create. To that end, I submit (knowing some will inevitably disagree) that :

The Mission of the Free Public Library is to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.

Because I believe this is the reason Free Public Libraries exist, I have NEVER had difficulty answering the ever-present questions of “Will Libraries become obsolete?” “Will Google replace Libraries?” “Will eBooks make Libraries irrelevant?” Of course not! As long as our political system finds its foundation in an Informed Citizenry there will always be a need for the Public LIbrary. That is- as long as WE remember why we exist. If we continue to make our Mission the latest trend then we will be our own demise.

A basic principal taught in business school comes from the 1960’s writings of Theodore Levitt, a Harvard Business School professor. Mr. Levitt forwarded the notion that, to be successful, businesses must focus on customer needs not on a specific product. He used the example of buggy whip manufacturers. If they had focused on accessory products for modes of transportation rather than JUST buggy whips- they might not have become obsolete when the automobile rolled around. Utilizing this same thinking, Public Libraries should focus on the primary customer need- information- and recognize that these trending buzzwords/phrases are great marketing tools that add to our Mission but do not replace it.

Why is it that we seem so determined to ‘jazz’ up our Mission with the latest trend? In a recent discussion I had with a group of Librarians I jotted down some of these buzz-words and phrases: Life-long learning, Community gathering place, Advance Knowledge, Community Anchor, Foster Creativity. It is my contention that these are METHODS to, RESULTS from, or REQUIREMENTS of fulfilling our mission…not the mission itself. For example: Literacy is a basic skill required to effectively seek and utilize information resources. Thus literacy is something in which Libraries have a vested interest but in and of itself it is not our Mission. A Library may become a community anchor as a result of fulfilling their Mission. Life-long learning is a method to the creation of an informed citizenry. The Mission of all Public Libraries in America is exactly the same – though the application is and should be radically different as dictated by the community the Library serves. This application is where the method, result, and requirements become unique; but we have allowed them to pervade our essential Mission.

During my search of various Library Mission Statements, I discovered that even the library’s that kept their Mission Statement fairly straight forward couldn’t quite resist the lure of including verbiage such as “Entertain”. For example:
“The Everywhere Public Library provides materials, information, technology and cultural opportunities to enrich, empower, educate and entertain people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Perhaps they felt these inclusions gave them an easy-to-point-to rational to encompass those less ‘educational’ portions of our offerings (such as DVDs and Romance novels). I would argue that we need no such rationals. Allowing all citizens access to those materials, such as film and television- from which we derive so much of our common vernacular and shared ideas, is as vital to participating in a water-cooler conversation as reading Plato will ever be (if not more). Who hasn’t referenced a popular film or television program in conversation to illustrate a point? (“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse!”) If you cannot afford the DVD or Television- you may not have access to view the films [if you wish to] and therefore will never fully understand those references and thus the sublties of such conversations. Thus these offerings become essential to the fulfillment of our Mission.

We play a vital role in the provision of our Constitutional Republic. We should embrace and reinforce that role, not only as the privilege and honor it is, but also as the assurance of our continued relevance and essential nature. Why is this not enough? Do we feel our Mission must be ‘jazzed’ up to draw in patrons? Or are these divergent and mixed messages of our Mission a result of our own internal crisis about who we are as a profession? Did we feel that the public trust would be improved by disassociating ourselves with the image of a government entity?

Whatever the cause, this inconsistent message of the Mission of the Free Public LIbrary must stop! We should revel and stand tall in the knowledge that we are the sole entity (government or otherwise) tasked with providing equal and open access to information so that our citizens are able to become informed and thereby participate in their own governance. Fulfill that mission in whatever manner (literacy, life-long learning, entertainment, community gathering place) best suits your unique community- But let us stop mixing Mission and method. If we, the champions of this amazing service called the Public Library, can all agree on ONE Mission that is unique, essential, and timeless then perhaps our united voice would be enough to eradicate the public’s misconceptions about the Public Library. If we know who we are- so will they.

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