What is a library?

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My principal today asked me a really relevant question to recent discussions in the library community. He noticed that his public library was weeding heavily to make room for new meeting spaces. This troubled him because he saw the library weeding some of the authors he liked. (Also, he is a huge library supporter in the traditional sense.)

He asked me, “Why would the library need all these meeting spaces?”
I said, “In a community people are needing spaces to gather to work on projects, business matters, etc. that allows for collaboration?”
He said, “Well, that doesn’t sound like a library. . .it sounds like a community center,” he said.
“That’s what a library is. Where is the community center that you can meet in a neutral space and also have access to technology and information?” I said.
“Oh, we don’t have a community center like that.” he said.

My response: “But, you do have a library.”

Something I have been thinking about lately is how can we shed the image of information warehouse, and transform into participatory space for the community? I run into the traditional stereotype of libraries and librarians in the school setting. It still amazes me that even my staff is surprised that I am actually a teacher.  And, that I am not a shusher. Also, yes, we make things in our library, eat things, and talk about things other than books.

The library community is very in tune with the shifting focus of libraries. . .but how do we get the general public in harmony with the changing role of the library in the community? This large scope of a vision for the library industry needs to be a united effort between public, school, academic, and special libraries. Moreover, we need to think in terms of our commonalities, purposes within our communities and structures of our institutions. As we start coming to terms with our identity crisis as libraries and librarians. . .we can bring forth solid solutions that will propel the whole industry and the mass of the public with us.

Kudos to those libraries pushing the limits, but at the same time we need to be able to work with the libraries that are more traditional (and there should be traditional libraries!) to see how we can collaborate to highlight our strengths and specialties.Marrone, Melissa. “Announcing: The Shelby White & Leon Levy Information Commons at Brooklyn Public Library.” Library as Incubator Project. 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.


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