Mission Creep

One Florida library system apparently has a problem:

The Hillsborough County Library System tries hard to be all things to all people. Perhaps too hard.

According to the editorial, the libraries are doing all sorts of things.  They’re community centers.  They have computers.  They have game nights, for crying out loud.  And all this takes away from their main purpose: books.

Today, the top priorities are more computer labs and more public meeting space. Book collections are deliberately being kept small.

So make no mistake about it. The construction of new branch libraries is mostly about adding value to neighborhoods, not about getting more books to more people.

Now, while I think this editorial overstates things a bit, there is something to ponder in all this.  We are trying to be all things to all people.  And….warning, shock alert….we’re not doing a very good job of telling our story, and explaining why we’re doing all the things we’re doing.

Perhaps we need to take a step back and evaluate what we’re doing and why.  And we should start exploring collaborative relationships, as the editorial suggests.  The writer continues:

 For library purists, it’s sad to learn that neighborhood libraries aren’t cherished for the printed word, but for the computers, meeting space and game events.

Given this new reality, Hillsborough’s library system needs a new strategy. If we want to make libraries de facto community centers, how they are financed should be reconsidered.

It’s time to look at the library system with fresh eyes, and for leaders to tell squeaky-wheel advocates that they can’t have it all.

Ah.  There’s the punchline.  If there is one group thinking this way, there are others.  And our libraries are going to start having to answer tough questions about what they’re doing and why.  If what you’re doing makes sense, and is congruent with the mission of the library in serving its community, then make sure you polish your story.

If, however, you’re offering services only because you read an article somewhere and didn’t fully consider whether it’s appropriate for your library and your community, you may want to reconsider.

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1 Comment

Filed under Libraries and Librarianship

One response to “Mission Creep

  1. I just finished reading the TBO article. Of course every library should carefully consider its community before making any costly decisions. However,I find it reprehensible that their library system is being criticized for doing what most public libraries aspire to do, be more “social,” and offering innovative programming. The author of the piece provides some interesting statistics regarding gains in their mobile offerings, however he/she conveniently neglects to mention the circulation statistics of the “media” items of which he is very critical.

    As a librarian who is responsible for compiling circulation and reference statistics, I can attest to the fact that DVDs, CDs, BOCDs, and MP3s (media) are trouncing all other item types. The gains that these formats are making are phenomenal. Cutting them off would spell disaster for any public library system. We’re giving taxpayers what they want. Indeed, we’re giving taxpayers what they demand.

    The traditional idea of the book is antiquated… What is a “book” anyway anymore? Some people consider listening to audiobooks to be reading, and what about ebooks? After reading the article I have the sense that the problem isn’t with their library’s programming, but with their rapid expansion. It sounds like they were trying to do to much in too short a time via expanding by six additional branches, and it all imploded because of it.

    Although the idea of the bound manuscript holds a very special place with most librarians, the fact of the matter is that if public libraries did away with most media, technology, and programming we would put ourselves out of business within a few scant years. The fact is, we’re trying to find a way to continue offering the author’s (and my) beloved monographs and the only way to do that is by using media, programming, and PCs to keep them afloat. What the author fails to realize, is that the offerings he attacks are the only things making it possible to provide what he wants.

    … That’s why we do what we do.

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