Sunday, March 16, 2014

Throw Out the Map: Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries

On Friday morning at the Public Library Association conference in Indianapolis, author and speaker David McRainy said that our memories can not be trusted. On Friday afternoon I attended Throw Out the Map: Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries, a program presented by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, a consultant for the Mid-Hudson Library System. Now, on Sunday evening back in Illinois, I wondered why the program was in the Administration tract instead of Marketing tract. When I looked at the conference guide, I saw how wrong I was. The program was labelled Leadership. McRainy was right.

On further thought, I think Leadership is a good classification for Aldrich's program, though it had elements of administration and marketing as well. The key word in the program title is "Thinking." Aldrich was most concerned with our thinking. We have to think positively in order to survive and thrive. We have to believe we have a strong future to lead the way.

The speaker admitted that the past five years of funding cuts and increased demands have been tough on libraries. Some nonusers of libraries, having read government cutback stories, even think that we have disappeared. (Or was this said at a different program, my memory is suspect.) She says we need to shout out what we do more. Let the public at large know that we are doing well. (I know she said that for its in my notes.) A call for joyful noise was a part of her program.

Aldrich pointed to signs of our continued success:

  • There are more library card holders than Netflix subscribers. 
  • Many new owners of tablets and ereaders thought of going to the library for help without being told to do so. 
  • Libraries are on the frontline of the do-it-yourself movement. 

I liked that Aldrich displayed a bit of revolutionary spirit. She suggested that we learn from political movements that have taken to the streets. Stating that we can not remain as we are, she quoted Seth Godin, "Revolutions destroy the perfect and then they enable to impossible." She also liked the proclamation from one group that reads "The Corrupt Fear Us, the Honest Support Us, the Heroic Join Us." She thought this would be a great library rallying cry.

Aldrich likes the new things that some libraries or librarians are doing, such as marketing their help to technology setups and providing reference service at festivals, such as South by Southwest. This is thinking big even we do something small. We build community through our aid to individuals.

At the beginning of the program, the audience responded weakly when the speaker wanted to hear us reply to her questions. By the end, we were as loud as the air horn in the program next door.

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