I admit it. I’m not the most patient person in the world. I want to be. I would have made it my New Year’s resolution but that would have meant waiting 12 months to see if I could pull it off. One of the ways my impatience manifests itself is that I get… well, impatient with people when I hear the same thing from different people over and over. They, of course, don’t know that I’ve heard the same thing from other people, but I still feel like a snarky 13 year old, “Really? Ugh. That is sooo last week.” The most recent ‘repeat sentiment’ has come up when I tell people about my job. You see where this is going right? I know you get the same thing. The very earnest question in a somewhat conspiratorial tone, “So, do you think we really need libraries? I mean, with everything online, do you think there is really a place for libraries in the future?” Really? Are people still asking this question? Ugh.
But people are still asking this question. And this concerns me because I’ve been hearing this question since I started library school in 2003. To be clear, I’m not worried that after hearing this same question for almost ten years I’m going to lose it and unleash my 13 year old snarky self (although, that is a valid concern). I’m worried that we are still not doing enough to articulate our current value to our communities. Which is strange because I feel like every where I look, there are reports of the dramatic increase in library use—especially since the economic recession.
At WebJunction, we’ve just published Project Compass Lights a Path to Workforce Recovery. This is the year two report for the IMLS funded project working with library staff across the country to develop programs and services to assist the un(der)-employed. Here’s what I find exciting about the year two report: it gives me the talking points I need to respond to the ridiculous “do we still need libraries?” question without sounding like a big jerk. It helps me articulate the conscience shift library staff are making toward helping their patrons develop 21st century skills. As one Project Compass participant stated, “The discussion of 21st century skills reminded me that current job seekers need to develop not only specific technological skills but a whole new mind-set which is more open to constant change, learning and creative problem solving.” The report also speaks to the number of library staff across the country who are committed to preparing their communities for the needs of the 21st century. Almost 2000 library staff attended a Project Compass in-person workshop and over 300 staff attended the online workshops. There were over 16,000 views of the discussion topics for those online workshops—that’s about 16,000 times that library staff have looked to increase their skills and develop creative solutions to support the economic health of their community! At the same time that we see that there is a national movement of library staff taking purposeful steps to support their communities, the report also details some of the innovative approaches library staff are taking, how they are changing people’s lives and why they are critical. One Project Compass participant stated, “A recent laid-off employee came in and had no idea of how to use the laptop to complete her paperwork. She was almost in tears when she found out it all had to be done over the Internet. After spending some time and explaining how the laptop works and the info she was going to need she felt better. Now every two weeks she comes in and acts like a pro on it and has even helped others on how to use the e-gov computer.”
As I bring up these points to answer the dreaded question, I can see the light bulb go off. So I’m going to keep talking about Project Compass, our innovative workforce resources, and how libraries are positioning themselves as economic beacons in their communities until I don’t have to hear that (!#@%ing) question anymore. I don’t think I could ever get tired of hearing in an earnest, conspiratorial tone, “Libraries? You know, I think they’re totally invaluable in this day & age.”