If the past teaches us anything, it’s that we cannot predict the future with any degree of precision. And we cannot hope to look ahead without really examining where we are now.
Recognizing the library’s current state permits us to identify needs of the library’s future. The challenges facing the library in the years to come are familiar to most people: the building, the collection, and the staff.
When people think of the library, overwhelmingly they consider it a storage facility for books and periodicals. A recent study shows that 75% of library visitors come to check out books. While that is part of what we offer, it should by no means define us. In an age when printed books are increasingly seen as outmoded technology, binding the library with the notion of printed books verges on dangerously assigning the library to an anachronistic role.
Printed books (and magazines) will always be around, for no other reason than for their simplicity. Libraries, too, will abide because our true mission lies well beyond the role of keepers of the books.
We provide access to job and career advice, legal, medical, technical and governmental information. We offer meeting spaces, access to scholarly journals and magazines for browsing, computers, storytelling, games, events, education, book discussions, wireless access, volunteer opportunities, tutoring, and a nice cup of coffee. Loitering is, in fact, encouraged. Our expert staff guides anyone who asks through the wilderness of ideas, information, and entertainment. We serve all members of the public equally. No other industry can make that claim.
So while we do provide books, our role is much greater than that. Our role reflects the interests of the city, as the demographics change the library adjusts its goals. The library is a function of the community. Indeed, one could make the statement that We Are the Community.