Looking back over the last twelve months, it’s been quite a year for libraries. There have been some bad times (okay, lots of bad times – a number of libraries closing or being threatened by closures; lots of budget cuts; stress due to staff attrition, increased business and grumpy, overwhelmed customers…), but it really feels like this is the year libraries lived up to their full potential.
We’ve always done great things and helped lots of people, but the bad economy has expanded our influence by leaps and bounds. Media coverage exploded as the press “discovered” the many important services we provide our users. Residents who previously eschewed holds lists to buy their own books and DVDs realized the folly of their environmentally unsound practices and the virtues of patience. Frugal or broke customers gave up their internet connections to use ours and attended our movie nights and programs instead of spending and arm and a leg at the local cineplex or music venue. Laid off employees and besieged unemployment offices depended on our help. We jumped into the breach to help our struggling towns with tips on jobs, saving money, free services, helpful government programs etc. In short, we became a more vital and necessary part of our communities than ever before. Now if we can just parlay that interconnectedness into increased funding.
And somehow, despite being busier than ever due to huge increases in patronage and circulation, we’ve managed to still be the innovators and thought leaders in our communities. We’re going greener – Rangeview (Brighton) is the first carbon positive library in the US; Jefferson County has the first green bookmobile; Seattle Public recycled 75% of construction waste; North Adams Public Library heats and cools with geothermal wells and Oaklyn Branch Library took advantage of the constant temperature of the earth and found itself a snug home in the side of a hill. We’re providing better customer service – Houston PL will deliver materials to your car, elsewhere staffers are roaming the stacks to help patrons at their point of need, libraries are using market segmentation to refine their offerings. We’ve got kiosks in shopping malls and airports, staffless libraries and vending machines. We’re using marketing in new ways – cereal boxes and trucks, license plates and trading cards – we’re even using huge outdoor screens to advertise services. And we’re keeping our patrons informed – through RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We’re more accessible than ever – we’ll answer reference questions that come by text, Twitter or chat. We’ll even go to community meetings or out to the local commuter rail station to answer questions.
So yes, it’s been a tough year, but it’s been an amazing year too. Public libraries are stretching themselves to serve their areas in truly amazing ways and I’m just astounded by all we’ve managed to accomplish, and by how we’ve secured an incredibly important and relevant place in this modern, technologically-obsessed society.