Sunday, June 08, 2014

Your Library In More Places

I often tell people that I am a big believer in the magic of libraries. They provide inspiration and hope, no matter their size. Today, libraries can be everywhere. From the massive buildings that dominate a downtown landscape, to the small branches in malls where people shop, book machines on the walk home from school, and even on your smartphone, libraries are there. The biggest challenge is getting this message across. How do we find ways to tell this story to the local community? To get people excited about it, and ultimately change their perception and gain their support? I believe it is in this magic that we can spread that message. This misconception is an opportunity to surprise and delight. It’s our own shock and awe, and we can deliver that to our communities.

One of the key principles to this process is a motto from our Foundation: Your Library in More Places. The concept came up on a sort of whim. I have written a regular feature for the local paper about our library for several years. One of these articles was titled "Your Library in More Places." In this article, I discussed our book machine services and our efforts in renovating our libraries.

My main focus in the past few years has been outreach, specifically the library’s book machines and renovating our small rural libraries. It is amazing to see the impact these kinds of acts can have in these communities- a new library with state-of-the art services that they never would have imagined. Instead of dilapidated hand-me-down shelving, worn carpet, and old computers, they get the same new furnishings and finishes that are available in the larger branches. The custom carved book shelving, the early literacy computers, they are all there. It provides a big boost for the community to have these amenities and it demonstrates to the community that the library cares about them.

Book machines are the easiest and cheapest way for libraries to provide books and materials on a 24/7 basis in a remote location. We've provided these machines outside of schools, inside job centers, but most importantly, where books are simply not available. A lot of discussion today has been about how to get children school ready, as well as how to ensure children read at a third grade reading level by the third grade. Access to books is a key feature to that effort. There is much buzz about projects such as Little Free Libraries, but this alone doesn't address the problem of getting books into a community in the first place, especially in small rural towns. These machines provide 300 books to children on a 24/7 basis. They get such heavy use that we need to send staff out several times a week, just to replenish the machine. Most of these areas are without any resources and have no access to books or a library. Some of their schools do not even have libraries. It is in this way that we can provide the key ingredient to literacy, and in a way that has the greatest amount of access.

It's also important to keep ahead of national technology trends and apply them to local community needs. E-books, digital maker spaces, and other technology are key pieces to the library's immediate future. Throughout a community, if someone looks at their smartphone for information, a library app can be there, complete with e-books, magazines, videos, reference materials and research. Even tutoring help is available! Now more than ever, libraries have the tools to show up in unexpected places and demonstrate their value.

It is a critical time to be involved with libraries. People are increasingly without resources when they most need them. Libraries provide community space for children and adults alike, to have access to books in any format, free access to that knowledge, learning, and reading. We provide that advantage. I've always thought that libraries will exist as long as curiosity exceeds one's budget. Whether it is reading or information gathering, libraries play a role no one else can. Libraries are a beacon of hope in so many communities throughout the country. There are those who seek magic, and libraries are the place to find it.