Friday, January 7, 2011

Goodbye (part 2)

After thirty-two years at APL, this is my final day. It’s been a great ride -- and a long strange trip. I’m fortunate to be leaving a place and a job I love. So after years of writing this blog, this is my final post as APL Director.

My thanks and appreciation to many more people than space permits naming: colleagues, board members, volunteers, and citizens have added great joy and satisfaction to my years here. This is a community which cares about the difference a public library can make: I see it in co-workers, supporters, people coming up to me on the street, and in the faces of children leaving here carrying books. I feel fortunate, humbled, and privileged to have been a part of this place and this effort. Colleagues here are doing work they believe in and living their values. This makes the place exciting and fun, though there are more than a few workaholics. The patient support of my family, especially my wife, Marsha, has been daily essential to my ability to do the job.

Many people have been saying kind things to me, but I’m very aware that I’m the most public face of a big team effort. While I’ve had a fair amount to say about what the library does, there’s a big staff that contributes ideas and delivers services with commitment and professionalism. Mostly I’ve tried to listen to the community’s expressions of what they want and need the library to be, and to bring professional resources to meet those needs.

The will and the expectations of the community makes the library what it is, as expressed through people: the library staff, Boards and volunteers – as well as City staff, elected officials, library users and others who take the time to tell us what they need and what they appreciate. Librarians may run the library, but it is the community that dictates what we will be and do. Our public votes not only in elections or through elected representatives, but with their feet, their donations, their time and their care.

Most of the staff never gets to work with our boards. Year in and year out, our trustees and friends have worked diligently to express that community will. It’s been a rewarding challenge to deliberate with them how steward resources and work to meet library needs.

It’s a joy to find opportunities for community collaborations and to be part of a professional community including local libraries and media centers, our exemplary public library system, our networks and professional associations that provide valuable education, support and resources. Cooperation among libraries to serve the public should be an example to other government services.

Finally, many people have asked me what I’m going to do in retirement. I have no big firm plans, but I’m staying in Appleton and staying involved in lots of ways, though stepping away from job-related connections. I have some ongoing community activities, a few small projects, and plan to spend time with family, read, travel, and let some grass grow before deciding on too many new commitments.

I’ll remain a strong supporter of the library. I believe that the community will continue to need, to want and to get much from APL, facilitated by a terrific staff, Friends and Library Board, led by an excellent new director who will do great things here.

But at the last, it’s time for a change, for me as for APL. It’s been an honor. Thank you and goodbye.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goodbye (part 1)

After forty years working in libraries, including thirty-two years at APL – of which twenty-two have been in administration and the last fifteen as Director, I’m down to my last day before retirement.

It seems appropriate to share a few reflections and one librarian’s opinion on where we've been and where we’re going. I've seen massive changes in how we provide library service. At the UW-Memorial Library in 1972, we hand-stamped transaction cards each time a book was checked out, filed copies of the cards in call number order, and pulled them from the files when the books came back or when somebody wanted to place a hold. We had to maintain card catalogs for people to find anything and the catalog alone at Memorial took up a room larger than many small public libraries.

As a new reference librarian here in 1978, I could answer most questions by consulting our small card catalog, the Reader’s Guide to Periodicals (and its specialized cousins), and some selected reference books. We sent inter-library loan requests only a few places, using a teletype machine. Our media collections were LP records, a few filmstrips and – just for schools and groups -- 16 mm films. We had no community meeting spaces, very few adult programs, and none for teens.

So what’s changed? There’s been a revolution in electronic communications and thus in information. Databases and Google searches have replaced many reference books. Email and text messaging have replaced postal mail and telephone. So the library’s tradition “bibliographic instruction” of teaching people how to find things has gone electronic, in big-time fashion, with informal assistance in getting an email account and formal instruction in computer basics as precursors to doing meaningful research. "Library 2.0" has developed connections and interactivity, while shared automation networks have created huge virtual collections, making more library materials available to more people in more ready fashion than ever.

Growth in electronic media has meant that library materials are continuing to change, although book circulation is still huge, DVDs, digital recorded books, and eBooks are all increasing their share of library use. Downloadable electronic files continue to shake the publishing world and libraries are struggling to define their place and preserve their values in this rapidly evolving environment.

The library has long been a community center, but is more self-consciously developing that role with programs for all ages and interests, awareness of learning as a social activity, community meeting spaces, exhibits and displays and outreach via staff involvement with partner groups. Program attendance and meeting room use have grown rapidly. In Appleton, as in many places, we are more aware of the centrality of volunteers and friends in fulfilling the library’s mission. Many essential tasks are now done by volunteers as shrinking public funding has not been sufficient for the staff to grow as quickly as demands for services. There is an increasing reliance on donations and endowments. All of this leads to the need for a strong balanced friends organization providing a variety of support including volunteers, marketing, fundraising and advocacy.

With so many changes, are libraries still the same and relevant? Absolutely, and more than ever! The unchanging mission of the public library is for information equity, intellectual freedom, and a diversity of ideas, opinions and users. Public libraries support every individual’s ability to define and pursue their own opportunity, and the changing economics of information only increase the importance of supporting that for everyone. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The public library is an institution working to guarantee this right.

The library has long been a cultural center, which no longer means a book warehouse, if it ever did. We support everyone's access to the cultural record in myriad forms. Libraries are individually responsive to their communities, but everywhere support lifelong learning, the love of books and reading, and the chance for everyone to learning independently on their own terms.

The technology changes the techniques, but not the values.

I’m leaving my job, but I’m still a librarian and will continue to work for the values of libraries – particularly public libraries.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reading for librarians & advocates: interview with Gail Bush

In a great articulation of the timeless yet evolving value of libraries -- particularly public libraries -- jobber BWi has a worthwhile interview with Dr. Gail Bush on their blog. Dr. Bush is a professor in the reading and language department, director of the school library program, and director of the Center for Teaching through Children’s Books at National–Louis University in Skokie, Illinois. She is also a public library trustee for the Evanston Public Library.

Among her points:
  • "The library, at its very core, is the cultural institution of the community. It has a unique role, which is why it is a universal in cultures with written traditions. The stewardship of the human records in that society in which the community dwells is one aspect of the role, the other, perhaps more authentic role for the library user, is the role in the enculturation [of] the next generation."

  • "...the library is a reflection of its community at a moment in time. Each library tells its own story. This is who we are, we bring with us who we have been, and we strive to serve who we might be. Libraries, like their users, are in a constant state of becoming."

  • "Entering a library on any given day is like standing in a river with the waters flowing around you. As you enter the library, it is your identity that becomes the driving force. How might that library serve your needs? Who are you today? Who are you in the process of becoming?"

  • "On my desk sits a tiny publication that packs a wallop. It is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ... it is Article 19 that I see as a beacon for librarianship, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

  • "We stand on the frontlines of ... democratic ideals, we are the community agency that welcomes you in as you are and helps you to become who you might be, which, in our country, is limited only by your own vision and determination."

  • "We need to stay true to our vision. We do not have the luxury to allow ‘our current situation’ to limit our thinking, contain our potential, or impair transformation of our communities."

  • "...quality literature and critical thinking require guided discovery. Conversation is key; it is in dialogue that we best serve our young charges and in fact, that we gain self-knowledge.

  • Keep the community close so that you hear from supporters and detractors. Stay aware of other community agencies and align your goals to best serve your constituents.

  • "Traditionally we help learners find answers to their questions. Now we are obliged to help them question the answers."

  • "In a nutshell, libraries and technology have been interwoven since the days of Alexandria. And since change is our constant, what better fit for the advances of emerging technologies to find a home at your community library. As we move closer to the semantic web, we need to stay vigilante that personalized information services do not limit the perspective of our learners."

  • "Librarians need to be open to the universe... We need to mine our inner resources, to continue that novice perspective of learning something so new and different in order to keep the needs of the learner fresh in our minds."
There's a bunch more, worth reading for librarians and library supporters.