On May 8, 2012, Worcester Public Library, the second largest public library in Massachusetts, enjoyed both political and intellectual support for its strategic planning. ALA President Molly Raphael addressed the Library Board to provide perspectives on directions for public libraries. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, a long-time supporter of libraries and a former president of the Worcester Library Board also participated in the meeting.
Raphael addressed broad-ranging topics under the rubric of “The Future of the Public Libraries and National Trends.” Perhaps the biggest lesson from her speech is that while larger trends are critical to understand and translate to the local situation, ultimately public libraries must demonstrate their value to the community. For the most part, funding is locally-based, whether from the government or fundraising.
As libraries evolve, we must not lose sight of our professional norms and values. In particular, libraries always have been the resource in the community to level the playing field–the place where all people can come to further their educations, careers, and other interests. In a world with increasing information complexity and commercialization of information access, the role to ensure equitable access–regardless of the ability to pay–is more important than ever.
Molly explained at the event that equitable access is currently problematic in the e-book realm. Some publishers, including four of the six largest ones, will not sell to public libraries–at any price. Individuals who can afford to purchase these ebook titles are free to do so, but cannot access these e-books at public libraries under any circumstances.
Public libraries must change and do so more rapidly than in the past, if we want to not just survive but thrive. Molly discussed the OITP policy brief Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library (PDF) as a useful way of planning. Roger Levien, the author of this report, visualizes each of the following dimensions in which the library can use to decide where the library should position itself:
- Physical to virtual libraries
- Focus on the user: Individual to community libraries
- Collection to creation libraries
- Portal to archival libraries
I was thrilled that we were able to receive such great strategic advice and political support as we consider the future of our library.
Member, OITP Subcommittee on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century
Associate Head Librarian, Worcester Public Library
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Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.