Businesses and institutions, such as libraries, are facing major disruptions. Think of the products that are becoming obsolete as a result of just one of these disruptions – the smartphone: address books, alarm clocks, answering machines, wallets, newspapers and magazines.
Many physical bookstores, like Borders, have already succumbed to Amazon. Many people prefer electronic books instead of paper books. At the Pine River Library, for example, close to 25 percent of our circulation is “e-materials.”
Against this background, what is the future of libraries? We know that libraries are not immune from disruption and, in fact, have already shown their ability to respond to it. During and after the 2008 recession, libraries reinvented themselves from a kind of warehouse of materials to a sort of “third space” (home being our “first space” and work our “second space”). They became all about sharing space and making connections. They recognized the essential role they play as a community center based on the needs of the customers. They understood that unless their customers are delighted, they can and will take their business elsewhere.
Erick Klineberg argues in his new book, “Palaces for People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life” that “the resilience of communities rests not on shared values but on the crucial connections created by shared spaces such as libraries, bookstores, coffee shops and neighborhood gardens.” So, the role libraries have taken on for the community could be what protects not only our libraries but also our communities.
As Steve Denning wrote in his article, “Do We Need Libraries?” the library has become part of the new “Creative Economy” as opposed to the “Traditional Economy.” He writes: “The customer becomes the center of the organization’s universe, rather than being on the periphery, or not even present at all. Staff can see whether what they are doing is leading to customer delight.”
He goes on to say, “The choices for the incumbents of the Traditional Economy are simple: change or die. Some organizations might decide, like Borders or Blockbuster, to die. Staying on the same course is not an option.”
The services and programs our libraries offer are based on the needs and desires of the residents of our community. Our New Year’s resolution is to do an even better job in determining how we can reach and serve as many community members as possible.
The four questions we ask ourselves are: (1) How can we deliver what our patrons want? (2) How can we continually innovate? (3) How can we personalize and make our services more convenient? and (4) How can we imagine the future services that customers want?
Talk to us and keep us accountable for meeting your needs. Fill out surveys that ask for your input. Join the Friends of the Library to directly participate in the ongoing life at the library. Do this, and together we can keep our community resilient.
Shelley Walchak is director of Pine River Library.