Re: Need for change (Was: dates)

Posting on NGC4LIB

On 30/07/2011 14:46, Joe Hourcle wrote:

On Jul 29, 2011, at 7:48 PM, john g marr wrote:

This image also chracterized around half of the electorate (pretty important people who run all of our lives and budgets), who simply do not understand the issues or the complexities of political rhetoricbeyoind sound-bites.

Um … electorate == people who can vote.
Most of ’em don’t vote, and most of them don’t consider library funding to be the main issue when electing delegates.

While I certainly have my own political viewpoints, in these kinds of discussions I feel that political statements are more divisive than anything else. In the case of libraries and their future, it goes beyond politics: be they free market capitalists or state-planning communists, anarchists or monarchists, it would seem that all have an equal need and desire for reliable information that they can access easily and quickly. As Joe points out, it is a part of public education and community development, which is in all people’s interest along the entire range of  political beliefs.

Attached to this however, is the need to build tools that people want and need. This means finding out what those users want and need so that you can build those tools. People have never liked to be confronted with: this is the product/service/whatever that we make and you have to use it or do without. The only time this “works” is when people are dealing with a monopoly, since their only choice is to literally do without. Libraries had a “monopoly” for a long time but that monopoly went away.

It wasn’t all because of the growth of the world wide web. Maybe I’m a little slow, but a movie came out only a few years ago that had a big impact on me. I remembering seeing that movie “Night at the museum” where the museum exhibits come to life in the Natural History Museum at night and our hero, the nightwatchman, wants to learn more about those dinosaurs, statues, and other things. So where does he go? To Barnes and  Noble! I almost fell out of my seat since in my naivety I thought he would go to the library! I realized I was dating myself. Then I remembered how the Barnes and Nobles had always been so full, and that libraries have been trying to become more like Barnes & Noble type bookstores for a long time now. Times were changing a lot back in the 1990’s and now, the situation is changing again as the big chains have problems. When the World Wide Web showed up it was a one-two punch that has staggered the entire field of librarianship.

So, I don’t think it’s as much a matter of convincing people that they need libraries so much as that we build tools that they will provide information that *they clearly need* and that they can use easily. Maybe people don’t know about the services libraries offer and need additional information, but you can’t–and shouldn’t try–to convince people that they need libraries when they believe that they don’t–it’s insulting. Far more productive would be to show people that we are changing, building tools that will help them find at least some things more easily and that, if we had the resources, we could do so much more, then that is an argument that people may find convincing, not only in municipal and state governments, but in foundations, companies and other organizations.

By far, the main tool that a library has is its library catalog, which is currently based on old thinking and just not very relevant to many people’s needs today. It was built and designed in another time, for another world. Realize I am talking about the *catalog itself*–how it works and what it assumes–NOT the individual catalog records, which are incredibly under-utilized. As a result, it is unfortunately very difficult to demonstrate how the library is changing.

It’s a tough time.