Public libraries are rich repositories of stories, ideas,
information, opinions, and culture -- and are places where the human urge to communicate
is celebrated with great gusto.
But did you ever stop to think about whose stories, whose
ideas, whose information, whose opinions, and whose culture are celebrated at the public
library? Almost always, the content of public libraries is from people who live in other
cities, states, countries.
Often that content is interesting and lively. But the
opportunity to meet and connect with the creators of that information is virtually
Consider what would happen if libraries set aside
shelf-space for locally produced content. Locally produced books, sure, but also locally
produced music, video documentaries, multimedia CD-ROMs, poetry, newsletters, photographic
collections and the like. What would happen is that people within a neighborhood could
connect with one another's creative imaginations. What a novel idea! In a public library!
Libraries today are reinventing themselves, holding onto
the best practices of the past, while adopting new, invigorating practices. Community
residents should relish the chance to shape the new form of libraries.
We need to remember that libraries exist to serve
community needs. If a community feels that a library should expand its offering of locally
produced content, then the library should be both receptive and enthusiastic about meeting
that community need. The idea here is not to replace libraries' entire contents, but to
supplement existing library content with the creative work of people in the neighborhood.
Here's what happens when two people from the same
neighborhood connect with each other's ideas and creative inspirations. A bond is formed.
Two people know something about each other that they didn't know before. And we are no
more, nor less, than the sum total of the bonds in our lives.
Have you ever been moved by a poem? Well, near where you
live a tremendously talented poet lives. Ever laughed aloud at an author's witty remarks?
The neighborhood wit lives down the street from you. Have you ever caught your breath
seeing a photograph with indescribable grace? That photographer lives next door.
A vast transformation in communications is taking place as
people rethink themselves as both information producers and consumers. We need to tap into
libraries as the central place where locally produced ideas and information can be shared.
How can overworked library staff decide which locally
produced content materials should get shelf space? The answer is quite simple. The Friends
of the Library groups can take on the role of recommending to the library the best of
locally produced content. And as more and more locally produced content takes shape in
digital form, the shelf-space requirement continually shrinks.
And if locally produced content is circulated, then a
single library shelf could accommodate up to three shelves worth of materials, for at any
given time two-thirds of the locally produced content would be checked out of the library.
If you care about community building, and the connecting
of human beings via the creative process, you need to get yourself over to a meeting of
your local Friends of the Library group. Your voice, your talents, your vision are needed
in molding the future of public libraries.
We can build libraries to be whatever shape we want them
to be. And you and I can decide the ways that libraries can best best be used for meeting
community needs. The possibilities are tantalizing, if only more people would step up to