This post is the librarian equivalent of Vegemite. You will either love it or hate it.
Librarians need to get the [BLEEP] out of libraryland; children’s librarians especially. Libraries don’t need saving. They need to provide services their communities need.
Here are some tips to get you the [BLEEP] out of your comfort zone.
1. Get out of your branch. Don’t expect people to come to you. There are many other services that fill information and entertainment needs now. Libraries are no longer entitled to being the only gig in town for books and movies; in fact, it’s often more trouble to access the library’s services than to just buy them online (either electronic or physical). Add value. Think like a business. Tailor your services to the needs of your community and then market the crap out of them. Get a kiosk at the mall. Establish mini libraries at transit stops. Visit daycares and schools, but also visit doctor’s offices, teen centers, hacker and maker spaces, comic cons, community colleges, fairs, marathons, markets, food truck nights and stitch n’ bitches. Which brings me to tip #2.
2. Make new friends. Creative collaboration and community partnerships are the future of library services. Make a new friend in your community! Partner with community agencies that are working with similar demographics or issues. Share staff, resources, facilities and FUNDING. Many IMLS and LSTA grants favor projects with a partnership component. Never underestimate the power of a network (that goes for organizations and individuals alike).
3. Get comfortable hearing constructive criticism. Ask new staff to offer their opinions of the services and programs you offer. Bring in an unbiased party to assess the services you provide. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid consultant; try bringing in a graduate student who is studying public policy, education, social work, library science etc, and offer work experience to do an efficacy study of your services. Try to keep tip #4 in mind while you do so.
4. Nobody cares how things were 5, 10 or 30 years ago. Intelligent innovation will guarantee the continued existence of public libraries. Doing what we’ve always done “because that’s the way we’ve always done them” will not. Making changes to programs and services in order serve the needs of TODAY’S library patrons may require an investment of time, resources and discomfort. Many librarians argue that they barely have the budget to maintain services as they are. In tough economic times this can be the case, but often it’s really a case of the administration’s priorities. Library services and programs exist to serve the needs of the community, NOT the librarians and their emotional attachment to their pet projects.
5. Develop yourself and your staff. Go to library conferences. Read library blogs (Yay you! You’re doing it!). Take webinars and workshops; try InfoPeople, PLA, ALSC and Early Childhood Investigations. There are plenty that are free, cheap and/or virtual in addition to state, national and speciality conferences. Know what’s happening in other libraries. Maintain a professional network of librarians from library systems all over the country. Join a listserv and make a goal of learning about new programs and services.
6. Get out of the libraryland echo chamber. Attend a conference for an association that does NOT have the word “library” in its title. Consider serving on a committee or presenting a proposal to represent your profession in a related but non-library industry. Check out the websites, listservs and newsletters of other associations and organizations; try NAEYC, NAMLE and ISTE. Communicate to other professionals what libraries do and have some successful program ideas to share, pass out business cards and discuss commonalities and potential partnerships. Write an article for the Great Librarian Write-Out.
7. Bust the Library Paradigm. Zombify your library. Circulate museum passes. Brand skateboards with your library logo. Be creative. Be fun. Be useful. Libraries are changing, growing and evolving way beyond a codex repository, and we as the new generation of librarians have the opportunity to shape the future of our venerated institutions. This is probably the coolest time EVER in history to be a librarian.
Our guest blogger today is Cen Campbell. Cen is a children’s librarian at the Santa Clara County Library District and the Mountain View Public Library, and a children’s digital services consultant at LittleeLit.com. She has driven a bookmobile, managed branch libraries, developed innovative programs for babies, young children and teens, and now helps other libraries incorporate digital media into their early literacy programming. She attended the California State Library’s Eureka Leadership Institute in 2008 and now serves on the ALSC Children & Technology committee.
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