Friday, May 4, 2007

Meeting the Challenge: Key Issues for Changing Times

Yippee--finally a session none of the other bloggers has blogged! Maybe bloggers are night owls? This was an 8:30 session on Friday.

Speaker: Keith Fiels, Executive Director, American Library Association
He’s been a librarian for 40 years in a variety of capacities, including former director of the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners.

Keith’s talk gave us personal, informal reflections on what he believes are the five great challenges facing us as librarians (and technology is NOT one of them, for a change). Then he provided his suggestions for meeting these challenges.

He had a couple of great handouts:

The first was a draft of a new ALA page, due to launch in June (but not there yet!) at

The page will include library-related news in the center, “Book Lover” information on the right, and Take Action/Find Your Library/Love Your Library/Ask a Librarian/Get Informed/Get Involved buttons on the left. It looks great; I think getting the public to find and *look* at it will be the challenge.

The second handouts were a set of bookmarks on cybersafety produced by the Illinois Library Association and MySpace. They’re great—just the right amount of text and information, good choice of format, and they suggest you “visit your local library” for more information. If I wasn’t so backed up in reading my RSS feeds I’d already have seen them; if *you* haven’t, you can download/order/read all about them here:

Keith’s challenges for us:

Challenge #1: Can we really do anything about library funding?

In highlighting some of the negative stories (e.g. Salinas), we sometimes obscure the positive things that are happening with library funding. Not all the news is bad.

In September, ALA will have a 2-person office for library advocacy, to help support local advocacy goals.

It is important to track library funding and its effect on users—ALA is looking to get real-time info on what happens with changes in library funding (a research effort led by Denise Davis).

We need to reassert the importance of our role in education.

We need to emphasize the data showing that school libraries are important for student achievement. Data for public libraries show the same thing.

See the 2006 research paper School Libraries Work! from Scholastic.

He referenced a study from the state of Florida showing the dollar value of library services:
Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries: Summary Report September 2004 (7.18MB PDF)

The Florida study also showed that educational uses of the public library equals the amount of recreational use (which is not what many people assume), and that remote internet use is larger than people expect (1/4 of all library use). Online users also “visited” the library more often: they visit about 15 times/year vs. 5 times a year for physical visits.

Bottom line: We need to turn all this information into sound bites for the public.

Challenge #2: What can we do to improve library services *other* than increased funding?

We need to keep up the quality of staff, and make our current librarians *better* librarians (i.e., more training). He mentioned ALA’s Emerging Leaders program and some other ALA initiatives. We also need more training for our paraprofessionals. Library materials should be made as widely available as possible, so that everything is available to everyone (e.g., ILL, remote databases, etc.)—Massachusetts does a good job in this.

We should recognize and identify *good* practices, but also identify *bad* practices, so they can be corrected.

Challenge #3: Can we ever improve the salaries of library workers?

We have to do more than just “whine about it.” We need to get the data to make the case; the battle needs to be fought one library at a time. Trustees and library directors need to make the case. There’s no easy solution for this one.

Challenge #4: What can we do to make a difference?

We must continue to serve all, and lead the way in diversity to better serve our communities. Preservation of our First Amendment rights (CIPA, Patriot Act, DOPA). Libraries have done so much to use social networking to expand in the community that arguments for restricting use of these tools in public libraries and schools will no longer work. We need to fight to preserve access to government information (e.g. EPA’s dismantling of libraries).

We can lead the world! Library use is declining in England and France, but not here in the U.S. We should to reach out to the rest of the world, and share what we can do best.

Challenge #5: Can libraries even survive?

Some still say the library is no longer needed because we have the internet—but our libraries are busier than ever. People come to the library for more than a computer can provide: for social interaction, for inspiration, to get help and advice. People in an electronic environment value face-to-face interaction more than ever.

Nothing ever comes easy—people have worked really hard to get us the libraries we have today—the future is in our hands.

1 comment:

Jen Inglis said...

One of the things that I took from this program was the need to dispel some of the library myths--no one's reading, no one's visiting the library, the computer's replacing us, etc.

One thing bothered me, though--He mentioned that libraries are just about the safest place for kids (I'm sure in response to an internet port scare "news" report which featured some of our libraries and librarians). I am FOREVER trying to remind parents and other users that we are a PUBLIC and OPEN and ACCESSIBLE building, one of the few such places where ALL people are welcome. It's one of the greatest things about public libraries, I think. However, it does mean that sometimes people with unsavory intentions are sitting side by side with children, and children are often left alone for hours. We cannot possibly serve as babysitters.