Blazing Trails, pt. 1: The lay of the land
I’ve been making an effort over the past few weeks to carve out time for the type of reading that feeds this blog. As a result, I’ve actually had more thoughts than I’ve been able to get written down. Feast or famine, I guess! But as I was mulling over a few things, I noticed that several of the threads I was following in my own thought and research seemed to relate to one another, and I’ve been working for a couple of weeks now to try to pull those threads together into some sort of coherent narrative. What started as the kernel of one blog post kept growing and growing until I finally decided I’d better divide it up into pieces and make a series out of it.
Will Manley got me started with his posts on the death of library schools, the grim job prospects out there, and the anger of librarians and students. I was recently contacted by an acquaintance who is starting library school, asking my thoughts about the job market. I recognize that it’s relatively easy for me to be optimistic given that I already have a job. Looking beyond my personal experience, though, I still see reasons for hope. To put it in the simplest terms, the economy goes through cycles. The short-term looks bleak, but I genuinely believe it will get better.
However, I don’t think the economy is really the heart of the issue – it’s a catalyst or a magnifier of a pre-existing problem. The real issue is that we are struggling to maintain a sense of identity in the midst of incredible change, and every time the economy tanks, we have to scramble to demonstrate our value so that we minimize the damage to libraries and somehow manage to survive a few more years. We’re working so hard to prove that we are necessary, and at times I wonder, “if we are really so valuable, why doesn’t everyone know it?”
Don’t crucify me, here! I love libraries and librarians, and I believe we do truly great and important work. But we’re losing a lot of battles, if not the war. There are too many staff and funding casualties. Too many libraries are being deemed “non-essential” in the current budget climate. Now, I happen to think that’s a disastrous outlook in both the short-term and especially in the long term, but it’s happening. So I’m wondering – how can we continue to provide value to our communities? OBVIOUS value. Can’t-argue-with-that value. Don’t-you-dare-close-my-library value. Not just now, but 5, 10, 50 years in the future?
The social and technological shifts that have happened in recent years, that are still happening, are seismic events. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that when the economy recovers enough that we can start hiring again we’re going to be looking at a different landscape. I don’t think we can expect our libraries to be thriving or even surviving 10 years from now if we just continue on as we are right now. I wonder if we’re preparing in the right ways. A new landscape, new topography, will require new maps. We need intrepid explorers who are willing to blaze new trails now and for the foreseeable future. We need pioneers who are willing to travel into unsettled territory and build something meaningful there. So ask yourself: are you ready to be the Lewis or Clark of library land?
Entry filed under: libraries.