Nothing seems to surprise people more about libraries than the librarians themselves.
In my experience, the general public still likes to think of librarians as bookish ladies who check out books all day. In reality, the librarians are generally not the people checking out your books. They are the ones behind the reference or information desks waiting to help you find resources, at the front of library classrooms teaching technology skills, or surrounded by little kids with picture books in hand. Librarians are your connection to learning.
We often like to quote Neil Gaiman to sell our big skill: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” Librarians are the original fact-checkers and fact-finders. We can help you find, evaluate, and use information. Wondering if the latest meme someone shared online is true? Ask your librarian. Not sure about that web site as a legit source? Ask your librarian. Seriously.
We’ll also try to keep up on publishing trends (my specialty) and new technology while planning events and pulling books for displays. No big deal. ;)
Books are just the beginning. They are one of many tools that your library offers in service to its larger mission: providing access to information and opportunities for education. The library is your classroom waiting to happen.
Public libraries, in particular, are committed to advancing knowledge through lifelong learning. Check out your library’s mission statement. It probably includes a sentence just like that or very similar. Books are one tool, but there are many more. Here’s a bit of what libraries offer:
Early Literacy – We start with the very young with early literacy opportunities from story times (which are more than just stories—they are designed to help build school readiness skills of all sorts from reinforcing concepts to social skills like following directions), pretend play spaces, and other types of programming aimed at inspiring young learners.
School Support – It might be just a quiet place to study for some, but for others a library means homework help centers, reference books, and other resources they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
Career Skills – With the job market the way it has been, many more people have been taking advantage of library assistance for job hunting, resume building, skill building.
Technology – Computer and Internet access are one thing, but most libraries also offer technology classes that may range from beginners web searching to introducing new software or hosting technology “petting zoos” for those looking to get beyond the tech they know. I might also mention that there are all sorts of online research tools available through your library web site as well.
Cultural Programming – Art exhibits? Check. Musical performances? Check. Larger libraries might even have their own performance/exhibit space. Part of this is the connection with the community that I wrote about yesterday, but it’s also about opening a cultural dialogue and facilitating access to the arts.
St. Paul Public Library director Kit Hadley shares her thoughts that the library has “always been in the learning business” in this video about the library’s role in the community. She looks forward to a future in which libraries play a vital role in a network of formal and non-formal learning. I can’t help but cheer her on. I guess I’m probably biased, being a librarian and all, but I think libraries are pretty great–and they have books too.
Tomorrow: What do librarians do? Mysteries revealed!
No two libraries are alike. I learned this young. My family moved around a lot for my dad’s job when I was young, so we criss-crossed the country collecting library cards along the way–thanks to my mom’s deep love of reading combined with her frugal nature.
We mostly lived in smaller towns where the local public libraries had to do the best they could with small spaces. Even in a small building, it always felt like the library was the heart of the community. It was where you could get a sense of a town. Huge, new children’s area? The town must have lots of young families. Foreign language collections? Immigrant population. Look at what’s on display. Those aren’t random choices. The librarians pull out the books they think you’ll want to read. We always visited our new library first–to see what we were getting into. :)
Later we moved to the Chicago area, where the local library was much, much bigger than any I’d seen before. I remember telling my out-of-town family about the library’s size with real awe in my voice. There I discovered the real potential of a library to engage the community to a level I hadn’t realized possible. In addition to the rows and rows of books that I had come to expect of a library, there were computer classes, children’s programs, book clubs, and all sorts of other opportunities to come together.
Here in Minneapolis, we are lucky to have a library system via Hennepin County that provides a gathering space for everyone–it’s one of the only places you can spend time without having to spend money–and a learning space that includes books and technology. You can connect with local history via the library’s Tumblr or connect with readers via Bookspace. Or you can get to know the librarian at your local branch. He or she will be happy to tell you how they support the community.
Here are some cool stuff I’ve seen and done at the Hennepin County Library recently:
Twice Told Tales – a family program about American legends brought to life by a local theater company
Celebrate Minnesota Libraries – this event launched a library related book and featured local children’s writers speaking about their connection to libraries growing up
Wonderland Week – a week-long Alice in Wonderland celebration featured events for kids, families, and adults.
These events were more than fun things to do on a weekend afternoon. They were opportunities to get to know my community. We have writers, artists, and scholars in our area, and one of the main venues for them is the library–at least that’s how I usually find out about them and their work.
The library isn’t just about books. It’s about us.