How does one convey to a broader audience the potential that exists in the public library to transform community? This probably sounds at first like a pretty big assumption for what many people still see as a rather passive institution. But stop to consider the library's assets. Public libraries tend to be institutions that are trusted. This is huge in today's world where there is a tendency to question the motives and intent of private and public institutions. The library has been able to retain this trust in part because it has been able to preserve its heritage of providing service that is very individualized. At the same time it has adopted technologies that enable it to reach a wider mass audience. It's not uncommon for libraries to boast of the fact that more people pass through their doors than many of the most high profile events in their community combined. Libraries tend to be places that all aspects of the community visit on a regular basis and concurrently. When people think of libraries, they tend to think of books, of tables and quiet study spaces. These places still exist in libraries. This is part of their heritage that works and that is being preserved as new technologies and forms of media are being added. But people tend to think less often about what libraries are increasingly doing in the way of early childhood education and technology training. They tend not to think about how the library uses its knowledge to aid non-profits seeking funds or how individuals use the institution's resources to prepare themselves for new careers.
I have spent a great deal of effort engaged in activities that have helped me to understand the broad needs of the community in which my library rests. Rarely has there been a community challenge that was not susceptible in some way to being aided by a library asset. The biggest challenge for libraries is not figuring out how to be relevant. The biggest challenge is where to focus its relevance. The institution stands in a position where it often has needed resources. But, like any organization, its capacity is limited by time, talent and energy. It must be strategic in applying its assets. For those working in libraries, this means they must be engaged in the life of the community to the extent necessary to understand its priorities. And they must understand the assets of their institution well enough to know how they can be most effectively applied.
Carlton Sears, Guest Blogger