Stories, Open Doors & the Heart: 5 Hopes for the New Year

By Michael Stephens |

I’m sitting at Panera bread in Mishawaka, Indiana this morning, playing catch up and getting some writing done before another day of holiday festivities. Sipping my tea in my most favorite “third place,” I can’t help but reflect on 2008 and ponder what 2009 will bring for us in the library world. I get very excited at the power and promise of what we’re doing: innovative services, new buildings, the harnessing of new technologies to extend our services in surprising ways, and much, much more. With that in mind, I offer  a few simple hopes for this shiny new year. Many libraries are doing these things already while others are testing the waters. Wherever your institution is going, these are things I hope for:

I hope that we tell our story well.

Libraries are an excellent value to all - all types of libraries. As the economy continues to change for the worse and folks lose jobs, that value becomes more and more important. I worry that we don’t tell our stories as well as we could. Marketing, branding, publicity - these are good buzzwords, but they are also crucial to what we do. Telling the story of the library and the people whose lives are changed because of it can be a powerful way to bring more folks through your physical or virtual doors. With the potential for libraries to close in some cities and towns, this is crucial. Use our tried and true methods to tell your library’s story and embrace social media to extend that message into emerging realms, enabling our users to tell the story as well- because really, it’s theirs in the first place.

I hope that we guide our users into the digital landscape.

Who better to offer advice and a roadmap to what it means to be an active participant in the online world but a librarian? In the 90s we guided people to the Web and now that the Web has evolved, we need to evolve with it--social, open and connected. What does it mean to participate in an online community? What does it mean for privacy? School librarians and public librarians might help young people build their “digital dossier” and academic librarians might expand that role as graduates join the work force.

I hope that we make good decisions.

In tough economic times, every penny and every staff hour a library has should be used optimally. What are we doing that could be streamlined, dropped or changed? How can we economize resources to sustain services? We should investigate open source opportunities, carefully, weighing the balance between vendor solutions and community-based innovation. It’s a big shift for many to change the way we do business, but the benefits may just outweigh the drawbacks in the next 5 to 10 years. A dream I have for 2009 is that we’ll see more large systems experimenting and adopting products like Koha and Evergreen, as well as applications such as Drupal, Wordpress and OpenJMS.

I hope that we open our doors to everyone.

Am I beating a dead horse? I don’t think so - as long as some institutions continue to control access with rules about technology, services, and resources. It pains me to visit a library’s Web site and find a Storytime pages for children and then adult book clubs with nothing in between for teens and young adults. The virtual doors should be open to people who might not know what the library offers. Remember, the virtual branch of any library extends far beyond your server room. The library should be present in online spaces where people congregate and may have questions. That includes Facebook, Twitter and other communities.

I hope that we encourage the heart.

How can we inspire curiosity in our users? How can we be the community center of town, of campus, of the school? In my mind, this is very important - everything we do should encourage our users to think of us when they need help, an escape or a roadmap in a an ever-changing world. Sure, snazzy technology in a beautiful space is sexy and alluring but the purpose behind it should be deeply grounded in a highly refined service ethic and the mission to put information into the hands of those who need it. Art. Music. Space. Technology. Gadgets. Shiny new toys. Rather important as well. Collaboration. Service. Connection. These are the foundations that make everything work so well. Caring and empathy? That's a given if we want to encourage the heart.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year.