Wednesday morning I volunteered selling merchendise at the Oklahoma Library Association (OLA) booth and chatted with the folks at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries Booth at the other end of the table. Really nice people. I saw some of the reference staff I used to work with at the Hardesty Library about five years ago, Amy, Karl and Darla, and passed Linda Summers in the hall. I even ran into Rita Howell, who used to run the Edison Middle School library, where I did my first spat of library volunteer work as a student! In high school, I was on the swim team with her daughter. Rita’s working at McFarlin Library at TU now. What a small world.
I wanted to hear what Anne Masters had to say about the future of Oklahoma libraries in the FOLIO luncheon, but I didn’t know if they’d let me in without a ticket. I would have passed on lunch—I just wanted to hear the presentation. Imagine my surprise when they ushered me in and installed me at a table! I think maybe they thought I was an awardee, but I told them I wasn’t, that I wasn’t really there for lunch, just the speech. But I guess some guests didn’t show, and there were extra seats, so they gave me lunch anyway! I felt kind of like a bum, but they were so welcoming and hospitable—what could I say?
Bum or not, I’m glad I caught the presentation. Masters discussed how libraries uphold key democratic values such as supporting efforts to inform voters and assist customers with accessing government documents; providing free sources of knowledge; promoting and assisting with self-education; preserving the humanities; and fostering civic pride. She quoted a number of recent studies about the persistance and value of libraries. One study entitled, Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes about Libraries in the 21st Century, indicated that approximately 80% of Americans think public libraries will continue. Other studies indicated that young people ages 18 to 29 are currently the heaviest library users, and that technology is bringing more, not less, library usage. Library services are still very improtant to job seekers in need of resume assistance and guidance in submitting online applications. As long as there are people without computers or Internet access at home, the library’s public computer access will be needed. Masters mentioned that no other agency has stepped forward to help the public cope with an learn to use the flurry of new technological applications cropping up everyday, and so the library has worked to fill that gap.
Masters had several suggestions to promote the community’s continuing value of public libraries. She advised librarians to evaluate “the library experience” at their locations to ensure customers have positive and productive experiences there. She encouraged librarians to embrace information technology, and to organize and host discussion about new technology and its value to the community. Masters encouraged us to use our libraries to preserve the memory of our community, and to create creative spaces within the library, where customers can conduct business, blog, and engage in artistic pursuits. Libraries should be flexible with building space, and try to maintain the identity of a town square, open for the free exchange of ideas. It is most important that librarians work to communicate the need for libraries to the community, be your own PR agent, remind the public why libraries are worth keeping. We all take things for granted until suddenly we don’t have them. Then we realize how valuable those things were.
Don’t let libraries be taken for granted!