Tag Archives: future

Race for Relevancy- Keeping Our Eyes on Where we are Going

Many years ago…in another lifetime, I dabbled in auto racing (specifically rally and autocross for those fellow enthusiasts). While there are many skills you learn in racing, arguably the most important is where to look.

THE RULE: You look where you want to go.

It is deceptively simple advice. Why?  Because we are trained to drive using certain tools and methods to keep us safe. When you drive competitively you must employ different techniques designed to get you where you are headed faster, more effectively and, ideally, before the other guy. The downside (there always is one you know)- there are risks.

Relying on traditional driving tools and methods, novice racers can be distracted by the cars beside and behind them observing their progress.  While others focus on their instruments- checking RPM and speed- instead of feeling their car’s performance and response to the road for a faster response time. Some look only a few paces in front of their car. Unfortunately, when they do this they only see what really, in essence, is already done.  There is no time for course correction.  Looking a few paces in front is to look at the result of decisions already made.  All these traditional practices of driving, slow you down and shift your focus from where you are going.   When racing you look up and ahead.  What is coming? Where do you need to position your wheels to take that next curve? The really experienced drivers have studied the track in advance and know the curve after the next one.  They not only know how to set up for the coming curve but how to exit in preparation for the one they can’t even see.

Libraries have been talking about the future for decades.  SO why are we still having the same conversations? Why aren’t we making more headway? Because we are relying on our traditional tools for our decision making and thus ending up with traditional results.

These outmoded methods include:

  1. Look for Trends: Much like the driver who monitors the cars around them, we become distracted by those around us.  While yes we can learn from one another, too often we become distracted by the ‘innovations’ of other libraries and simply replicate.  We allow ourselves to become followers instead of leaders.  Look outward and forward.  What is the NEXT thing? What is happening in other disciplines that will influence libraries?  Simply put- by the time you read it in Library Journal it is old news.  Someone has been there and done it.  Does that mean you should not incorporate the idea? No! Go for it.  But do not stop there.  Use that innovation as a stepping stone to your next.
  2. Ask your Community What it wants: Oh now this one will get me in trouble…but hear me out.  When I was on faculty at a Washington State University, we took a student poll asking what services students would like to see in the library.  “Beer” was the #1 response.  Yes, I know that in some countries they do serve beer in academic libraries -but that is a topic for another blog.  The point here being, your patrons do not always know what they want!  And they most certainly do not know the possibilities of what you could give them.  Still not convinced? How many times has someone said “I wish the library carried eBooks” or “I wish the library did…(fill in one of a thousand other examples of something you already do)”.  We all bemoan that patrons do not know what the library offers.  So why do we think they have the magic answer to our future?  Librarians have debated “What is a 21st Century Library?” for decades…WE have to find the answer.  The response will let us know we got it right.
  3. Using Statistics for our decisions and direction: Just as with the driver focused on the space in front of him instead of the coming road, by the time we see these, they are behind us.  If we are being honest, the majority of our data is at least a year old by the time we can use it for serious analysis.  In addition, most of us would also agree that much of what we measure we do only for state requirements or our boards; not because we truly believe it reflects the interest and usage in our libraries.  This leaves us always responding never instigating.  WE will never be able to set ourselves up for the curve if we are busy responding to old information. Am I saying that statistics are useless? Of course not, but they aren’t going to get us to the future.  They are a gauge that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the decisions we have made.  But to make the truly innovative and edgy decisions there are rarely stats to lean on.  This is where instinct and experience come into play.

You are the expert. You know your profession.  You know what is needed.  Be bold, Trust yourself and move forward decisively even when those around you tell you all the reasons you will fail or should not try.   As John Locke told us, new ideas are always suspect for no other reason than that they are new.

If we are to find our future, we must stop using outdated tools and methods.  Instead we must look to the future.  See what is coming and head towards it. Without excuse or apology.  Look where you want to go and MOVE.  So why is something that sounds so easy one of the toughest skills to master?  Simple. Keeping your eyes on the future and driving straight at it is hard because it forces you to trust your instincts and abandon the tools we traditionally use to keep ourselves safe and on course.

All those who stay on the edge or try what no one else has take risks.  Sometimes you fail. As with racing, the goal is, at best, to succeed and, at worst, survive the failure.

For those who may read this and say “But its not a race!” Really? Tell that to the folks in Douglas County, OR


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A New Era in Libraries 

OK… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been a little busy lately. (Thus the shortage of recent postings – my apologies dear readers). I quit a job, took a new job, moved 1300 miles and have been, in general, pretty preoccupied with my own career. That said, I still feel like I’ve been a bit tuned in to the world around me and yet this evening while I was surfing, I uncovered something shocking. Is it just me… Am I the only one who did not realize…that our Librarian of Congress is retiring after 28 years, and the process is ongoing to appoint a new Librarian of Congress?

How is this not the number one topic on every library blog, Library Journal, ALA and library website? For the first time in 28 years we have the opportunity to have a new Librarian of Congress! This is a thrilling and exciting opportunity.

Now, I’m going to take just a moment of pause because as I read the little bit of coverage that there has been about Dr. Billington’s retirement… I have been incredibly disheartened to read the snarky, unkind, and (quite frankly) mean-spirited comments that have been made about his tenure. None of us have walked in Dr. Billington’s shoes and while we can all backseat drive and Monday morning quarterback about what we think he should have done, let’s look at what he has accomplished: pushing back on the Patriot Act, advocated for Net neutrality, championed the Library of Congress’s National Digital Library program, created online a major bilingual website with Russian libraries, and launched smaller such joint projects with the national libraries of Brazil, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Egypt, established the National Book Festival with Laura Bush in 2000, acquired the only copy of the 1507 Waldseemüller world map (“America’s birth certificate”) in 2003 for permanent display in the Jefferson Building, created the Library’s first Young Readers Center in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in 2009, launched BARD, a state-of-the-art digital talking books mobile app for Braille and Audio Reading Downloads in partnership with the Library’s National Library Service for the blind and physically handicapped in 2013, and the list goes on. While he may not have been the digital elevator that so many individuals would like to see today, let’s not malign the gentleman who served as the 13th Librarian of Congress since 1987 (long before the Internet), was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, or refuse to acknowledge the work that he has done during his time as our Librarian of Congress. (A more complete listing of his impressive accomplishments can be read at http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2015/15-105.html) Thank you Dr. Billington for the work that you’ve done and may you enjoy your retirement.

Now onto the future… Some of the articles that I’ve been reading have detailed lists of names of potential appointees. These range from historians, presidents of Ivy League universities, and prominent public library directors. But what I don’t see is any of that tied to the discussion of what it is that we want our Library of Congress to do and oversee during the next decade. Rather than simply appointing someone who has previously done good work, shouldn’t we first begin the discussion with what we want to see the Library of Congress accomplish in the next decade, and then find a leader who can accomplish that mission?

So what would we want the Library of Congress to accomplish in the next decade? The Library of Congress was established in 1800 by an act of Congress for the purpose of being “a reference library for Congress only, containing such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein”. That mission remains as steady today as does our very Constitution, because it is law. I’m not advocating to reinvent the Library of Congress but rather to view that mission through the lens of the 21st-century. What does that mean?

Of course there will be millions of opinions about what that means… But what it means to me

From LOC’s own website “The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” In my readings I am seeing it referred to as research, cultural institution, archive, repository, etc. But in truth it appears that throughout the lifespan of the Library of Congress it’s core mission has always been to maintain such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress. Thomas Jefferson is attributed as saying “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection, since there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Let’s contemplate what Thomas Jefferson was meaning – that in the provision of their duties as representatives of the American public there would be no topic that members of Congress might not have occasion for which they might require some references. One might justly see that this is an interpretation of the American public’s own right to access any and all information on any subject. So in truth, while not a public library in the manner that the public is walking through the doors each day and utilizing the collection to circulate, the Library of Congress is a representation of all that is sacred about the American public library.

When looked at in this manner is it not appropriate that in the next decade the Library of Congress should lead the way in legislation, policy, and best practice for not only our profession but also every public library in America? And with that said, should we not then look to find someone who has brilliant ideas and proven practice of daily role modeling of all that is good and worthy about the American public library? Should not this be the template for our next Librarian of Congress? He or she should be someone who embodies the ideals of the 21st century public library. He or she should be someone with a firmly founded and crystal clear concept of what the 21st-century library can and should be, who can articulate that vision both inside and outside our profession as both a leader and an advocate.

With that said… why isn’t every blog, journal and website focused on our profession discussing and debating this important moment?  As 21st Century Libraries we preach “Community Engagement”.  We must learn to practice it as well!

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