Look to the future and say, “Why yes!”


flickr photo shared by Reuben Whitehouse under a Creative Commons ( BY-ND ) license

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of libraries (and my library in particular) lately. What will we be doing? What will we look like? Where will the funding come? To that end I read John Palfrey’s new book BiblioTech to help me frame discussions with our institute director about the library. You should make your boss (or your boss’ boss) read it. For the most part I’d say I’ve been pragmatically upbeat.

This morning I sat in on a discussion of my colleagues before a meeting, and the focus was on falling staffing rates. The student to librarian ratio has lept through attrition, budget cuts, and increased enrollment to try and generate for money. It’s a common tale across the country and it sucks. In the middle of this fairly regular and well worn discussion I wrote down, “stop talking about cuts look for growth.”

In the meeting the discussion of cuts and the tight budgets came up again, and again I thought “ok, so what?” A number did try to steer the conversation to new opportunities and the future but we seemed somewhat mired in the muck of loss. Of course this makes sense – losing resources, staff, and space is traumatic for libraries. It forces the mission to change and it’s uncomfortable to deal with. I’ll also go a little generational here — for people who have spent most of their careers with fairly stable library situations where the stakeholders understand the function and mission, the current situation can be trying on the nerves. For others who are newer to the profession, who pretty much only know instability and chaos, this is just how things are. It’s not just age and experience, it’s also a mindset.

So here’s my public proclamation to keep myself honest: We need to stop focusing on the loss, and look to the new. We say we’re doing it, but are we really? Lots of discussions about potential new services or approaches often turn into historically minded gripe sessions about what we used to be. No more. Yes, understand the constraints and do not minimize them, but also offer up something different. We used to do a bunch of things we don’t do now because we laid off all the staff. That’s a bummer. It’s also a different time and now we can do different things. The mission doesn’t change much, but our mindset has to.

So as these discussions continue over the year, I’m going to embrace the opportunities for new things and say, “Why, yes!” I will not talk about the good old days and rue all that we’ve lost.

Let’s do this.

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