Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How do we frame the library for our communities?

How do we from the library for our community so that the community knows the library is for them?

When I read this week’s post on Museum 2.0--one of my favorite blogs to read these days--I was struck by Nina Simon’s closing question:

The metaphor for traditional art museums is the temple. Beautiful. Sanctified. Managed and protected by a league of committed, anointed ones. 
What is the metaphor for participatory arts? Is it the agora? The town square? The circus? The living room? The web?

And it got me thinking: how do we frame libraries for our communities? What impression are giving them of what a modern library provides?

The fact that Justin Hoenke posted a photo essay about the 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Library just a few hours later felt particularly serendipitous, because it put a major idea into stark focus. That idea: the public perception of the library often does not match the reality of the modern library, and we need to work on communicating what, in fact, the modern library is and can offer.

What words do you hear folks using to describe public libraries? “Repository” is one that I still hear pretty frequently. And have you heard anyone refer to it as the “lending library” recently? I have. And while libraries do still lend, that’s only part of the picture.

Unfortunately, the zeitgeist just keeps touting this idea that libraries are dying--because these (overwhelmingly white, higher SES, male) “thinkers” loudly proclaim that people don’t need physical places to get their physical books in this day and age. And despite the fact that this reductionist view of libraries has been rebutted by folks who know what’s what, it’s still a pervasive image problem.

People still see us as that place with the books. And we definitely feed that perception--my guess is, nine out of ten of you are at libraries whose logo somehow incorporates a book. We’re not representing the wholeness of what we offer our communities. Examples: not a day goes by that I don’t hear “You guys have DVDs?” or “I didn’t know you offered programs like this!” And as long as that’s the norm--library as repository for books--maybe we do have a problem. I don’t know that can we realistically expect our communities to engage in all the wonderful things we offer if our image is still so tightly tied to books.

So how do we better frame libraries for our communities? How do we effectively convey all that we offer? What words do we use?

Is it about learning experiences? Is it about discovery? Is it about knowledge? How do we connote all that we are in an accessible phrase?

The library is a _______.

I don’t know that I can adequate begin to fill in that blank from my perspective within the library. To me, “library” really does mean all the wonderful things that the modern library offers. How, then, do we come up with a statement, a frame, a metaphor that ensures everyone in our communities can be initiated into what our libraries are?


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