Advisory Committee meeting
Anyway, back here in Dublin on Monday and Tuesday, we had a meeting of our Advisory Committee on Public Libraries. (You can see the committee roster, but Helen, Gary, and Jane weren't in attendance.) Now I'm a former public library worker (18 years in Buffalo NY, Charleston SC, and Lancaster OH) so I have a lot of respect and affection for public libraries and librarians, especially the group on this committee. Three presentations particularly seemed to catch fire with them.
Cathy De Rosa and Alane Wilson walked into the room, asked the Committee what they thought of the environmental scan, and then basically sat back for 75 minutes and listened to the committee members tell them where they thought public libraries were headed. It was a heady discussion, full of insights into the future of technology.
What they thought
This crew thinks that
1. public libraries aren't going to be able to claim the digital divide as a refuge much longer, as technology gets cheaper and more ubiquitous)
2. the descendents of cell phones are going to replace most of the technological arrows in our quiver soon, and we'd better to be ready to deliver services there
3. we still aren't doing a great job of snagging teenage users, although the libraries with dedicated teen space that's wide open and extremely lightly regulated have a better shot at keeping the 12 to 20 set.
4. Almost all of the group loves self-service everything, although Sheldon Kaye voiced his distaste for airline self-service machines. He took a lot of kidding for that over the next day and a half.
One interesting insight: if public libraries appeal broadly and specifically to the young, they run the risk of alienating the older users. Older users are currently the majority of library users. More importantly in this context, they are the majority of people who vote, as in voting for library levies. That'll slow down your more forward leaning thinking in a hurry.
Then Doug Loynes came in and talked about group catalog services. I thought this one might be a throwaway on the agenda, but no---the committee saw exactly where this was going and had many questions and suggestions about the service. Jan Ison is from Illinois, which is implementing group services in a big way this year, and she explained a lot about what they are doing. She made some converts, too.
Open WorldCat pilot
The last big discussion came about the Open WorldCat pilot. Andy Boyer and Ericka McDonald had the committee dancing in the aisles (OK, a slight exaggeration) as they showed how Google and Yahoo have, each in their own way, harvested WorldCat records.
Dan Walters from Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library saw this as a long range replacement for the OPAC, which he said is a badly underused asset in most libraries. Everyone agreed that putting WorldCat records where internet searchers might actually find them, i.e., in the major search engines, was going to have a huge impact on libraries, and they didn't seem to think it could happen soon enough.
Public libraries as the 3rd place
Public librarians have long understood the role of library as a "third place," and this committee can make that case more clearly, and more knowledgably, and with more passion, than nearly any other assortment of people you're likely to meet.