Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tom Ashbrook and the nourishment of reading

So the first story Tom Ashbrook told this evening as the keynote speaker was about how he believed that he became such a bibliophile. As an infant, his mother breastfed him for 2 years, and during those two years, she read a book about Africa to him when he fed. So, every time he's near books, or whenever he's reading, he feels so warm, and nourished, and comforted.

For serious, he totally said it.

When asked what he wanted to talk about, he thought maybe "the next library," although he didn't really know what it meant at the time. Is it the future of the library? What he wants to see in libraries? It's a topic near to his heart, because libraries are near to his heart, as a nourishing part of the community (even without the breastfeeding).

His business as an internet entrepreneur and a host on WBUR's OnPoint, he's on one end of the information business, and we as librarians are on the other end of the business. However, the two worlds intersect on different levels. He receives tons of book to review, and what isn't read and reviewed is donated to a branch of the BPL in Brighton. So many of the topics on the show come from interesting books he's read, as he sorts, prioritizes, and evaluates the books he wants to highlight. He, too, is giving context to content for the world.

He spoke on how history is "not distant and apart from us, something very much a part of our lives," how he "grew up with a powerful feeling of history," being close to history through books, which he believes bred him into a great journalist. He also believes that the curiosity and desire for education came from reading and going to the library and reading books. Libraries are an important part of the community as a repository of history, ideas, culture, democracy, and the world beyond the "chatter of the moment," holding an important place in communities.

What will the next library be? He's not sure. Newspapers, like libraries, seem to be facing a similar conundrum, where relevance and news models have displaced the role of newspapers in the world. To Tom, the key to the library not going the way of the newspaper is to stay forward-thinking, progressive, and ahead of the curve. And, keep building and supporting community.

If he had the keys to the library, he would:

  • Rip off Barness & Noble

  • Bring in a Starbucks

  • Keep it all free

  • Bring in Kinko's

  • Hook up with Amazon to make books available for sale right off the stacks (if it's replaceable)

  • Provide "acres of web access," and the "best kind of web access"

  • Don't be a afraid of the commercial world, bring them in to help

  • Hook up with Best Buy to get the best equipment in the library (and drive business to Best Buy, a symbiotic thing)

  • Stay the center of community life, with an awesome community meeting room for all to use

  • Help patrons become not just learners and information consumers, but producers (homework, books, pamphlets, blogs, podcasts, *anything*)

We live in a time where society is full of individuals in their own little worlds. He sees the next library as a "community integration centers," bringing people together. But that's just his "cheap advice from the peanut gallery." :)


Bryan Person said...

Sounds like an absolutely fascinating talk to hear in person. Wish I was there.

I really enjoyed Tom's book, "The Leap," and listen to "On Point" from time to time as well. He's certainly a thoughtful man.

Thanks for the summary, Andrea.

--Bryan Person

Beth Gallaway said...

I really like the idea of modelling libraries on the business successes. What librarian wouldn't be happy to turn their photocopying over to Kinkos?

As for books for sale, I think have to recognize that patrons are paying for services like Amazon and Netflix; keeping free access to information and stories, but offering either value added services, or getting corporate sponsors, like museums and public radio, to fund us.