Thursday, February 08, 2007

13 Ways of looking at a public library

With indebtedness to the research team and only marginal similarity to Wallace Stevens's work. The list below is a tour de force of what a public library is, was, and is in the process of becoming--for communities across the United States:

  1. Technology center: Provides access to all forms of technology and software that people may not otherwise have access to, making the library relevant in the 21st Century.
  1. A resource for small businesses: Provides all the resources a small business would need – including free private office space, computers with internet access, phone, copier, scanner, and fax machine. It would also provide access to online databases like ABI Inform as well as other business related resources like books about finances, marketing, etc.
  1. Workforce training center: Provides instructor-led classes on entrepreneurship, presentation skills, computer skills, sales generation, financial planning, marketing and other business related topics in order to improve the workplace skills and marketability of community members.
  1. Source of all government forms/applications: Acts as a one-stop-shop for all government forms as well as provides resources and advice about filling out the forms and submitting them.
  1. Resource for job seeking: Provides resources and consultation for resume writing and interview skills to aid community members in their job hunt. In addition, it provides free Internet access for searching online job seeking services like and
  1. Resource for tax preparation: Provides tax forms, access to tax preparation resources and step by step guidance during tax season.
  1. Health Resource center: Acts as a health information resource by providing the most up-to-date health and medical information, flu shots and other vaccinations, health insurance and Medicare information and advice.
  1. Teen center: Provides a safe place for teens to gather outside of school, get help with school work, and have access to the Internet and computer games.
  1. A community center: Serves as a community center that provides free meeting space to hold group meetings, attend/host special events or spend time socializing with friends.
  1. Immigration center: Provides a place where immigrants have access to government forms, books and other information resources in languages other than English. It also provides literacy classes and other English as a second language (ESL) courses to help immigrants adapt to the community.
  1. Music and art center: Acts as a cultural center where community members can come to learn about different types of music and art through books and other resources, but can also create and display their own art and perform their own music.
  1. Research Center: Provides access to information on a wider variety of topics than you can find anywhere else through its online databases, reference materials, and the expertise of librarians.
  1. Social center: Offers a café and lounge-like atmosphere for people to gather and socialize.
Of course, I'm not saying that every public library should be all of these things--but it's a nice consolidated list of many, many of the aspirations we've heard/felt/thought/seen, for public libraries in this country. Looking through this list, it feels like a little bit of paradise. (If only there was a beach or swimming pool--but I am sure that will come in PL 2.0.)


Faith Williams said...

What about reading and books? I realize they're only part of it, but I think they're important.

Alice said...

Faith, you are absolutely right. I think we approached it thinking that reading and books are a given, in today's public libraries...but thanks for pointing it out!

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are certainly all great aspirations for the public library but I'm afraid that's all they are for most libraries. For starters, the funding is drying up for many libraries, that they don't have enough resources to provide innovative services. The other problem is that this is yet again coming from librarians, and librarians always overstate their worth and importance. Ask the public what they think of libraries, or how they look at libraries. I'm sure you'll come up with a different list.

Anonymous said...

A different list? Why is it that people think you can not be professional if you are personal. I would hope that the people in my city feel they are important, that their needs are going to be met when they walk through the door of the local branch library. Librarians are finding creative, innovative ways to meet demands. I do not think that the importance of the librarys or librarians can be overstated enough!

LibrarianInBlack said...

There are so many more things that come to mind: a children's education center, a homeschooling resources center, a daycare center (!)...the public expects a lot from us. We can't give all of it, but we certainly do try.

cartoonmeister said...

How can you make a list and not have anything about Children's Services on it? Obviously whoever made this list doesn't like children.

Anonymous said...

In the suburbs of Chicago, libraries are so important that they are as crowded as the grocery stores right before a winter storm.

The real way to find out what libraries mean to people is to threaten to take them away. Most people consider libraries to be a part of every day life - even if they don't use them that much. Read any women's magazine related to home, garden, and/or family. Chances are some article will suggest going to "your library" for more information on a variety of subjects.

Anonymous said...

We seem to be stuck on thirteen.

In the last two years, I've conducted focus groups for nine libraries using the Planning for Results: A Public Library Transformation Process, which includes 13 service responses. Although PLA is currently revising these, I've listed those I used below. Your 13 are similar, but I agree with others that you've left out a few vital roles:
1. Preserving local history, including primary and digital sources.
2. Providing a balanced selection of traditional printed sources.
3. Offering basic literacy services

Here are the 13 service responses.
BASIC LITERACY: Addresses the need to read and to perform other essential daily tasks.
BUSINESS & CAREER INFORMATION: Addresses a need for information related to business, careers, work, entrepreneurship, personal finances, and obtaining employment.
COMMONS: Addresses the need of people to meet and interact with others in their community and to participate in public discourse about community issues.
COMMUNITY REFERRAL: Addresses the need for information related to services provided by community agencies and organizations.
CONSUMER INFORMATION: Addresses the need for information that impacts the ability of community residents to make informed consumer decisions and to help them become more self-sufficient.

CULTURAL AWARENESS: Addresses the desire of community residents to gain an understanding of their own cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of others.
CURRENT TOPICS & TITLES: Addresses community residents’ appetite for information about popular cultural and social trends and their desire for satisfying recreational experiences.
FORMAL LEARNING SUPPORT: Addresses the needs of students who are enrolled in a formal program of education or who are pursuing their education through a program of home-schooling to attain their educational goals.
GENERAL INFORMATION: Addresses the need for information and answers to questions on a broad array of topics related to work, school, and personal life.
GOVERNMENT INFORMATION: Addresses the need for information about elected officials and governmental agencies that enable people to participate in the democratic process.
INFORMATION LITERACY: Addresses the need for skills related to finding, evaluating, and using information effectively.
LIFELONG LEARNING: Addresses the desire for self-directed personal growth and development opportunities.
LOCAL HISTORY & GENEALOGY: Addresses the desire of community residents to know and better understand personal or community heritage.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to me that there is so much negative response to these 13 ways. Are these not just a starting point? By no means am I a rosy glasses kind of person. After all, the public also sees us as a location for washrooms, a great place to hide from parents and make-out, and a computer by which to view porn. Hey, the reality is - the public Library is just about whatever you want it to be. Now, all we have to do is spread the word in a way people will want to come use our services and invest themselves in what we do.