by Carolyn Davidson
Assistant Director
North Texas Regional Library System

If you read library literature – in whatever your format of choice is – you have seen discussions concerning the future of libraries. Will libraries be relevant? Will we still have library buildings or be virtual? Just exactly what does the library look like in the next five or even ten years?

The answer to all of these questions is an educated guess at best. Many of us realize libraries will always be relevant – we are information specialists and information is the juggernaut of the times. I think we may possibly be missing the boat in how we do business. Many libraries are changing their services to provide customer service that is adapted to user’s needs. Instead of making the rules and expecting our communities to blindly follow them, we need to bring our communities into the rule making process. We must be adaptable and responsive to our user’s needs.

Rethinking the library role is being discussed among the library leaders in Texas. These discussions are ongoing and will open the door to how we do business. New ideas will surface through these dialogues, and of course, all ideas will not be feasible. As we reflect and redesign, the collective brain will provide revolutionary ideas to strengthen our role and service.

One of the current ideas is virtual branches – Southlake provides services to a local corporation and Little Elm delivers books to waiting rooms and businesses throughout the community. It isn’t just about the user coming to us anymore.

Unfortunately, we are almost always fighting for our funding and must work smarter, not harder. Every library needs to look at the hours they are open to the public. Each community has different users with different needs so there is not one right answer. As a working person, I can tell you that getting to a library before 6:00 p.m. is almost impossible. If you frequent bookstores you will notice they often have many customers until closing time – often as late as eleven. While I know that library staff do not want to work “retail hours” that may be what the library market demands. Do senior citizens come in the morning hours – what morning is best? Consistent hours do make it easier for our users to remember when we are open, but is it really helpful if I know you always close at six and I can’t make it? Everybody from drug stores to grocery stores are providing pick up service or drive thru windows – it is all about convenience these days.

If you can’t extend evening or weekend hours, brainstorm ways you can still make your library valuable to all users. The concept of after hours lockers so patrons can pick up materials even when you are closed is a great answer. I recently saw an article on the Today show stating how Auburn University has an answer line. You can call anytime and someone will help you find the answer to your question. At no time in the segment were libraries or librarians mentioned, but this answer line service received national attention. We have been answering every day, but no one seems to be noticing.

Just yesterday I overheard someone state that bookstores are more fun to browse than libraries. Bookstores are set up to be attractive and comfortable. Used bookstores hold great treasures – the aged cover and musty smell add to the sense of discovery. These used bookstore lovers are natural library lovers. We need to work on our environment for the traditional non-library users. We will never be able to attract everyone to the library, but we can certainly find ways to provide a more mass appeal. Are you a research or archival library? If not, weed books that are not moving on your shelves. Make the shelves clean and eye-appealing. Display the newer titles or the old classics – generate interest in the books. We often wait for the user to browse the catalog or book stacks and just discover our treasures. This isn’t working very well – we need to be the treasure guides and spotlight the materials.

Take time to consider how you do business and determine if it is necessary – really question your policies and procedures. Are due dates and fines necessary? Can patrons set their own due dates? Should you buy more copies of hot titles that will fly off the racks, or buy what you think they should be reading? Even though DVDs are high loss items, are they bringing in new users so you will continue to buy the new releases? Do you ask teens what they would like to have in the library like graphic novels and gaming? Is it really necessary to use the Dewey Decimal System? Should we show movies just for entertainment, teach computer courses, hold investment classes, or even host a carnival? Should we check out gardening tools with the gardening books, sewing machines with the sewing books, portable DVD players for vacationers? Host an “Antique Roadshow” at the library and use a local appraiser.

We need to open our thinking to totally new ideas. This is not to criticize how we do business, but to hopefully get a dialogue started about how we need to change to stay relevant. We won’t all agree on the changes, but we can have intelligent discussions that will allow idea sharing and hopefully a more responsive library to the community.

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Original Publication Date: 
January 1, 2008
Legacy Article Number: 
296