Saturday, April 16, 2016

National Library Week - Future of Libraries

In the story Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez, the character Badger reminds us of the importance of stories in our lives. He says, "The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves. ”

I often think about these words when asked about the future of libraries. Those of us working in libraries are often asked by people when they meet us and upon learning that we're a librarian what we think about Google. How do we feel about the decline in reading? Are we worried about the internet? What about iPads? Do people even use libraries anymore? Many of us smile knowingly, and depending on how well we know the person, how we are feeling that day, or what we had for breakfast, we might suggest some additional information for the person to consider, such as the latest studies that show reading is up, particularly among young adults. We might cite studies showing the value of libraries to communities, particular in tight economic times. Or we might editorialize about the fact that the internet, rather than "tearing down community," can be places where people come together, form connections, create, and in fact "read."

Libraries are not just places where stories are cared for and preserved, though they are that. They are places that facilitate the creation and sharing of life-giving stories. These stories come in many forms, some are fiction, some are non-fiction; they come in many formats, some are electronic and some are printed, some are visual, and some are not written down at all. Libraries are dynamic places that are both rooted in tradition and forward looking. Though there is work to be done to make sure we are relevant, to ensure that our services, collections, and spaces reflect all of our users, and to articulate this relevance to our communities, I am not actually worried about a future in which libraries don't matter.

In her book, Why Be Happy, When You Could be Normal, Jeanette Winterson talks about her experiences and loneliness as a teen. She talks about how important literature was for her in connecting her with the world and helping her to combat the isolation and despair that she felt. “I had no one to help me, but the T. S. Eliot helped me," she writes, "So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” We hope that our library is a finding place for all of our community.

- Heather Tompkins, Head of Collection Services

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