by Craig Tappe
Library Specialist for Vance Hunt Library Furnishings

Does that question sound familiar? Folks have been asking it for quite some time. In fact, the North Texas Library Partners recently hosted a conference in which experts from a wide variety of backgrounds dealt with that question.  I was privileged to facilitate three separate panel discussions in that conference, and I heard experts on each panel present a great deal of good information. Throughout that day, a few things dawned on me.

Some see the future for libraries through the prism of the rise of E-books and other technological challenges to the traditional library model. Others hear the trumpet calls for budget cuts sounding from Austin and see the future of libraries from that horizon. The truth is, accurately forecasting the future for libraries requires taking both elements into consideration. However, as any Texas weather man can attest, forecasting the future can be a tricky business. Let’s take a look at a couple of literary examples.

In 1913, Eleanor Porter introduced us to a little girl named Pollyanna Whittier. Pollyanna was a young orphan girl whose life’s philosophy centered around finding the silver lining in every dark cloud. Her name has become synonymous with a type of foolish optimism that never acknowledges the presence of problems. It’s kind of like the optimist who fell from a 40-story building and at the 20th floor says, “So far so good!”

Then there is Henny Penny (a.k.a. Chicken Little). Henny is a chicken who becomes convinced the world is coming to a catastrophic end when a falling acorn hits him on the head. His hysterical rant throughout the fable is, “The sky is falling!” Through the years, those words have come to be synonymous with the irrational idea that ultimate doom and destruction is just over the next horizon.

When it comes to the future of libraries, neither of these literary figures poses a helpful paradigm. The fact is, changes are coming to libraries in Texas (public, academic, K-12, and even special libraries) which will substantially change the rules of the game. The Pollyanna idea that everything will be sunshine and roses ignores significant challenges that lie ahead. On the other hand, the Chicken Little idea that these challenges mean the end of life as we know it reflects a blindness of a different kind. Namely, it ignores the reality contained in the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Yes, future technology and reduced funding changes the rules of the game for how libraries do business. But there is a significant difference between changing the rules of the game and calling the game off all together!

How secure is the future for libraries in Texas? The answer to that question depends on the answer to this one — “What is your approach going to be to the challenges that are coming?” There is no fatalistic, predetermined future for any of us. The future itself is empty. We get to decide its contents.  If we stubbornly hold to the modus operandi handed down from Melvil Dewey, the coming changes will be a tidal wave. On the other hand, if we are ever-searching for new sources for funding and new ways of doing what we do, the coming changes will be a wave we can catch and ride to new and exciting heights. The former approach to the future leaves us drowned and destroyed. The latter opens doors of opportunity in the future. You get to decide which future is waiting for your library!

As Library Specialist for Vance Hunt Library Furnishings, Craig Tappe is constantly in contact with libraries across the state. In addition, he has spent the past 25 years working in a variety of non-profit environments and helping people realize the full potential of their influence. In those capacities, he says, it’s especially important to “know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.


Original Publication Date: 
March, 2011
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