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Library Trends: A Community Conversation

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

By Jamie LaRue, Executive Director
Garfield County Libraries

In 2012, I was invited by the U.S. State Department to give some presentations in Moscow. There was a big annual publisher exposition, and people from all over the world showed up for it. My job was to talk about American experiments in ebook lending. Along the way, I got to speak to a bunch of other groups, too, and found the experience enlightening. Over the handful of days I wandered the capital of the former Soviet Union, I learned to have tremendous respect for the very smart and dedicated people who staff our embassies.

I also couldn’t help but notice that virtually every teenager I saw on Red Square had a smartphone. Where did they hang out? — at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, which offered free wifi. I suspect that their access was both heavily censored and monitored, though.

There are fads and there are trends. Fads come and go. Trends persist. In the world at large as well as the world of libraries the shift from physical to digital is a big one. In fact, it’s one of four trends that is fundamentally transforming the way libraries do business.

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On Wednesday, Aug. 17, I’ll be speaking at the Carbondale Branch Library. I’ve only been the director of the Garfield County Libraries since May 2, so I have a lot to learn about the communities we serve. My staff suggested a series of meet and greets to introduce me to our patrons. But instead of just dropping by for coffee and treats, you might be interested in helping us all make sense of which library trends are actually good fits for us. I view trends not as binary choices. I see them as continuums (continuua?). Where on the continuum are we now? Where should we be in three to five years? What would that look like?

The evening will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be part social mingling, part lecture and part interactive exercises. I promise I won’t ask you to do anything embarrassing.

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As a small preview, here are the trends, identified way back in 2011 by the American Library Association. It could be that others have emerged since then. I’ll ask about that, too.

First trend: Physical to Virtual Libraries. We are moving from access to physical items to access to digital content.

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Second trend: Individual to Community. Many libraries are moving from one-on-one transactions with individuals to a more systemic outreach to community groups. It’s the difference between a conversation at a service desk and a longer term library project with, for instance, an economic development council.

Third trend: Collection to Creation Libraries. The biggest use of libraries is still checking stuff out. Library users tend to be savvy consumers of the products of our culture — books, movies, music, programs. Some libraries are focusing more on helping their patrons make products. This includes everything from quilting and sewing clubs to using 3D printers to manufacture hard-to-find machine parts.

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The fourth trend is Portal to Archive Libraries. People still use libraries to explore the world beyond our neighborhood. That’s the portal idea. But some libraries have begun to team up with historical groups and museums to do something Google and Amazon don’t: tell our story to the world.

In our post-COVID world, in a time when there are many changes both within the United States and on the geopolitical stage, it might be worth a little time to try to calibrate our public institutions to help us thrive both individually and as a community. I look forward to the conversation.

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Tags: #Garfield County Public Library District #Jamie LaRue
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