Category Archives: librarianship

Subversive thoughts on National Library Week 2017

Librarians are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.” Michael Moore 

As usual, Michael Moore sees beyond, behind, through and inside the exterior of things, events, buildings – and people.  Which is why this quote got me thinking about this National Library Week post.

National Library Week matters because if only because the theme gives us pause to think about how or whether “libraries transform lives,” as this year’s NLW theme asserts. (http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/factsheets/nationallibraryweek)

For most of us the word “library” prompts visual images of stately buildings of days gone by, rows of neatly shelved tomes, acres of accessible technology, children’s reading corners and quiet carrels.  For some nostalgic bibliophiles, there’s even an old book smell….

And yet, libraries are not just places.  What the library user sees is the physical manifestation of an intricate collaboration of library workers who breathe life into what is a truly human process.   It is human beings who select the library’s holdings, organize the collection, know how to locate resources through a maze of interlibrary connections, maneuver their way through print and digital reference tools, read to children, deliver resources to the homebound, partner with researchers, and otherwise link a unique bit of recorded information – a book, database, video, story or archive — with a seeker who has a need and right to know.

My thought is that NLW should be re-branded, maybe as National “Libraryness Week.”  Though obviously that’s not going to happen, rebranding would shine the light on the essence of the whole, the countless roles that committed library workers play – when they’re plotting not a revolution but a path from seeker to source, unlikely source to ready seeker.

The sometimes rugged path is laid by a team of library workers who shape the reality that comes full circle in the physical library setting – whether that’s an iconic Carnegie public library, a laboratory, law firm, elementary school, university campus, hospital or church basement.  Physical settings are essential but inert – human beings plot, then create, the settings, the flow of information and ideas, and the path that leads to learning.

Michael Moore nails it – those library workers aren’t just sitting there, or shelving or cataloging or reading to a group of six-year-olds or delving into a rare tome or deciphering a reference question.  Toiling in back rooms and endless meetings, they are, in fact, plotting a revolution, a revolution built on an informed democracy in which people seek truth, embrace wisdom, learn from the past, and share the intellectual legacy of a free people.

One of my favorite high school memories is of a beloved teacher with a mission who would dash down the hall declaring with gusto that she was “on her way to combat ignorance!”  That’s how I think of library workers who 1) design and share an integrated system that assures that every voter, student, inventor, parent, historian, new American, researcher, educator, caregiver or avid mystery reader has the opportunity to exercise the inalienable right to know, and 2) go to the max to see that truth-seekers have the skills, attitudes and awareness to make the information and ideas their own.

Though I wish I had a more poetic word for it I’m stuck for now with the idea of “libraryness” to express my commitment to this democratic – and increasingly essential — role of librarians and libraries – the port in the storm engulfing this nation’s truth-seekers.  The whole of libraryness is far greater than the sum of its parts; the strength of libraryness rests not only on ready access to recorded resources but on the creative vision and commitment of library workers.

Yes, we celebrate library buildings, library books, digital resources, archives, photos, magazines, devices, games, information collected, produced and consumed in ever-changing formats.  For me, this library quote “puts a face” on the wholeness and outcome of libraryness – an outcome impossible to measure, essential to preserve:

Librarians are just like search engines, except they smile and they talk to me and they don’t give me paid-for advertising when they are trying to help.  And they have actual hearts.

* * *

P.S. When/if you’re at Minneapolis Central Library visit the NLW exhibits that  include some lesser known treasures  that tell the story of libraries and librarian.  While you’re at the Central Library visit special collections to check out the excellent exhibit of digital resources that give reveal the treasures of the Library’s special collections: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/opening-library-archives-from-the-outside-in

Honor library workers of yore who paved an early path on which today’s information highways are constructed by clicking on this NPR broadcast: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/13/522606808/file-this-under-nostalgia-new-book-pays-tribute-to-the-library-card-catalog?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170413

 

National Library Week – Information, transformation, appreciation

It’s Spring!  You’ve stashed the boots and parkas, gathered the tax information, and got out the seed catalogs.   Do you feel the need to transform yourself, your life, your surroundings, political system, your outlook?  Have you thought of a visit to the library?

Turns out that National Library Week 2017 is Sunday, April 9 through Saturday, April 15 – and the theme is “Libraries transform.”  Though I guess you can interpret that any way you wish, as I see it this era of alternative facts suggests transforming our ways of seeking and appreciating truth might be an appropriate transformation….

And libraries, particularly those that value an informed public over stats and optics, are actually an essential resource.  And yet I would  suggest that it’s not libraries but the multitude of people who support, work in and value libraries that do the transforming.  That includes staff at every level, library boards, Friends, volunteers of every stripe.

As with every institution, libraries themselves are being transformed, largely because of information and communications technology – basically by the ways in which people seek, acquire and assess information.   In an earlier era some thought technology would replace libraries.  As time has demonstrated, the role that libraries play is more essential than ever.  The challenge is well-nigh overwhelming for all involved.

Which means that a pause to recognize and celebrate is more than ever timely.  One starting point may be the American Library Association’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report” scheduled to be announced on Monday.  On Tuesday, April 11, focus is on the people who connect the resources of the library with seekers of information, ideas, inspiration, real facts.

Wednesday, April 12, is National Bookmobile Day.  Though it may sound anachronistic it’s important to bear in mind that broadband access is far from universal and that there are far too many people with disabilities, lack of transportation or other challenge for whom bookmobile service is their only option.

The American Library Association, sponsor of National Library Week 2017, provides written and graphic promotional materials in abundance.  To download free NLW tools and resources visit http://ala.org/nlw.  Or check other sources, including Pinterest, for library-related graphics.

Finally, bear in mind that transformation takes time, so focus on the long view on the “Libraries transform” theme.  Libraries have been transforming  users and their communities of interest since about 2600 BC.  No rush – just a pause to appreciate and celebrate.

 

UPDATE:  What’s happening at the U of M Libraries – from Consortium

National Library Week 2017

April 9 through 15: Come join us!

3

The University Libraries invites you to join us for National Library Week, an annual event occurring this year from April 9 through 15, which celebrates libraries and the people they serve.

“Libraries Transform” is this year’s theme, and the U Libraries will be hosting events that help transform lives on our campus.

Activities include:

  • Providing resources at pop-up libraries and sponsoring a food drive
  • Helping our staff and students meet basic needs through a food drive that assures everyone can focus on lifelong learning, rather than where their next meal is coming from.

In addition, the Libraries transforms by providing our campus with resources and services that address the needs of today and tomorrow — from publishing services, systematic reviews, data management and immigration history to a new researcher collaboration studio opening in Wilson Library fall 2017.

Pop-up Libraries & READ Posters

The University Libraries will be outside across campus during National Library Week! Stop by our booth to check out some great reads, and see what else is going on at the Libraries!

You can also get your own limited edition National Library Week bookmark and stickers. You’ll find us from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the following locations:

  • NLW17stickerTuesday, April 11: Coffman Union
  • Wednesday, April 12: West end of the Washington Ave Bridge (rain site: Willey Hall)
  • Thursday, April 13: St. Paul Student Center

Food Drive

On behalf of the Food Group, the University Libraries will host a donation site for non-perishable food items. Donation sites include: Wilson, Walter, Bio-Med, and Magrath Libraries from April 9 through April 15.

Share How Libraries Transform Your Life

You can also join the fun from home! Share your library story using #nlw17 and don’t forget to tag the University Libraries (@umnlib). Share how libraries have transformed your papers, research, projects, and perspectives. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see our events and resources that help transform the lives of our faculty, staff, and students.

Please contact Jamie Hoehn (jlhoehn@umn.edu) or Kristen Mastel (meye0539@umn.edu) with questions.

Cataloging community resources: A writer’s experience

Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services,  great libraries build communities. –R. David Lankes

Given Lankes’ definition of library greatness, the East Side Freedom Library (eastsidefreedomlibrary.org)  is a great library-in-progress! Even better, the day-to-day narrative of the life, growth and strength of the ESFL is being chronicled and shared.

Victoria Blanco spent several months as a resident artist at ESFL, recording her observations and opinions as she experienced the day-to-day community under construction at and through ESFL.

One beehive of activity that Blanco came to understand and appreciate during her residency at ESFL is the work of the volunteer catalogers whose painstaking efforts are expanding access to the rich collections of the ESFL. She vividly records the work of volunteer catalogers going about their professional tasks as “books, records, art, movies, instruments, and textiles arrived by the boxful.”

Tedious work, perhaps, but Blanco appreciates the goal of the catalogers: “Like planting, there’s a repetitive rhythm to cataloguing. Open the book, find it in the World Cat system, enter the essentials in the electronic system, print out a slip with a call number, and shelve the book, in the correct place. Do this for weeks, months, years, until the library is complete.” (Not that any library collection is ever truly complete!)

Blanco’s experiences at ESFL range from observing the work of volunteer catalogers to conversations with the library’s patrons to exchanges with young scholars hard at work on their History Day presentations.

Blanco will share her impressions on her ESFL experience on Thursday evening, July 28, 7:00 p.m. at the ESFL, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St Paul. The community event is free and open to the public.

Come early to experience the abundant energy and commitment that are transforming a proud Carnegie library building into the nucleus of a living, thriving community-in-progress.

 

 

In the digital age the question remains: Whadya need?

Ask any good salesman the rhetorical question “Whatya sellin’? and you’ll get the stock answer, “Whatya need?”   The old story comes to mind often, including on a day this week when I read three contrasting – and complementary – library-related stories.

The first was from my favorite day brightener, the Writer’s Almanac. A birthday tribute to Malcolm X (nee Malcolm Little) shed this ray of light on the early life of a complex man whose ideas continue to influence the nation’s struggles with race-based challenges. (http://writersalmanac.org/note/may-19-birthday-malcolm-x/)

Following a childhood marked by tragedy, Malcolm Little in the mid was arrested in the mid-40’s for larceny. The WA editors tell us that, while Malcolm was in prison,

An older inmate encouraged him to use his time to educate himself. Little began checking out books from the prison library, and when he found his vocabulary too limited for some of them, he copied out an entire dictionary word for word.

The story engendered a sense of loss when I reflected on abandonment of library services once provided through the state’s correctional facilities. Though I appreciate that committed volunteers, including the Women’s Prison Book Project (https://wpbp.org/, are helping to fill that gap, it is a sad reality that today’s prisoners are deprived of the learning options that transformed the trajectory of Malcolm Little’s life.

On a lighter note, I then skimmed the data-driven piece in MinnPost in which Greta Kaul as data cruncher tabulates the hot reads du jour as reflected in circulation data collected by area public libraries. (https://www.minnpost.com/arts-culture/2016/05/which-books-are-most-popular-twin-cities-libraries) Though I enjoyed the snapshot I know well that circulation stats, though quick and easy to collect, are the least meaningful indicator of public good.

Next I was brought up short by a hot-off-the-press thought piece with the alluring title Virtual memory: the race to save the information age. The challenging article raises these disturbing questions:
Are we creating a problem that future generations will not be able to solve? Could the early decades of the 21st century even come to seem, in the words of the internet pioneer Vint Cerf, like a “digital Dark Age”? … It is becoming increasingly clear that the migration of knowledge to formats permitting rapid and low-cost copying and dissemination, but in which the base information cannot survive without complex and expensive intervention, requires that we choose, more actively than ever before, what to remember and what to forget. (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#sent/154ce5746f3d442a)

In some ways, libraries and librarians can be viewed as sparrows in the unknown cavern that is the Information Age. Throughout recorded history libraries have offered a safe haven in which the past, the present and the future live as one. With the dawn of the Information Age realistic visionaries embraced the premise that information is a resource like no other, an idea early articulated by Harlan Cleveland (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/harlan-cleveland-properties-of-information-revisited/  Over the years, libraries have crossed bureaucratic and technological borders to sate society’s unquenchable need to know.

Malcolm Little’s unmet need was for a port of entry into the world of ideas he could access through his prison library. The high stats cited in Kaul’s piece reflect busy readers’ need to grab a quick read for the LRT ride. Of equal import is the fact that tomorrow’s researchers will need to know what we’ve been doing in these times.

As a society struggling to shape this democracy and the role of this singular institution in the Information Age, we are challenged to ponder the public good implicit in the prevailing question: Whadya need?

Genevieve Casey – Imagining the possibilities for 21st Century libraries

Though the name Genevieve M. Casey may not be a household word, there are many beholden to her for her lifetime of contributions to her chosen profession of librarianship. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, she spent much of her youth in Detroit, returning to St. Paul to receive a Masters Degree in Library Science at the College of St Catherine (now St. Catherine University.)   After a year of service in many roles Genevieve Casey retired from Wayne State University as Emerita Professor, where she was honored with special tributes including a scholarship in her honor. She died in 2012 at the still vibrant age of 96.

More important than the statistics is her legacy in a changing profession.

Her first professional position was in the early 60’s with the Detroit Public Library where she introduced the idea of an urban bookmobile. Though bookmobiles were originally designed to provide library service to rural communities, the bookmobile idea caught the fancy of Casey who saw the potential of a mobile library to share books and library service with urban readers in neighborhoods throughout the urban Detroit area.

Casey’s commitment to flexibility – meeting the needs of a changing population – was at the core of her professional service, a commitment she demonstrated when she was appointed by the Governor to serve as the State Librarian of Michigan. Those must have been some turbulent years for Casey. Two of the Governor’s budget recommendations that year were for the construction of buildings, one that would house the Law Library Division in a new Supreme Court building; the other, a new facility for the State Library. His vision was years in fulfillment.

In 1963 a state reorganization moved administration of the State Library from the State Board of Libraries to the Department of Education. That same year a former manufacturing building was remodeled as the headquarters to house offices for the State Library. In four months, library staff moved over one million volumes…. The new facility housed the Library for the Blind, a resource that continued to serve a public demand that rose from 635 items in 1960 to 280,347 six years later.

Looking to the future, Casey collaborated with Western Michigan Library to sponsor a professional trainee program through which library students could earn an accredited degree for working at the State Library, with the proviso that they would continue to work at the library for two years after graduation. During her tenure Casey was also called upon to deal with internal problems, including a pervasive rift as school and public libraries were pitted against each other, to the certain delight of others at the public trough.

Casey resigned from the State Library Agency in 1967 to join the faculty at Wayne State University in the Center for Urban Studies.   The 70’s saw a more inclusive approach to meeting the information and recreational needs of the nation’s library users. Once again ahead of the clock in 1974 Casey published The Pubic Library in the Network Mode, a prescient study on the possibilities.

As a faculty member at Wayne State Casey rose to the expanding opportunity to “reach out.” A priority for her was libraries’ inattention to the specific needs of an aging population. In a scholarly piece written in 1973 Casey lamented the fact that there had been scant involvement of libraries in the 1971 White House Conference on Aging. She raised the question: “What is the reason for the indifference on the part of libraries to the aging who constitute 10 percent of the present population, and whose number and percentage are generally believed will increase in the future?” Responding to her own question she quotes the National Survey of Library Services to the Aging, conducted by Booz, Allen and Hamilton:

The absence of special programing for the aging is a result of the traditional philosophy of library service held by most librarians – namely, that the library should provide services of universal scope and appeal. The result of this approach has been to submerge the needs and requirements of a particular group or segment of the population that might have a unique claim on the resources of the library.

That did not satisfy Casey who went on to write a major piece on “Staffing Library Services to the Aging”. It remains a hallmark study. Her ideas about the topic are best preserved in Library Services for the Aging, published in 1984 by Library Professional Publications.

Casey decried the fact that “library services to the aging have not developed at a pace consistent with the increase in the number of 65+ persons in the nation and commensurate with the increase in national interest in the needs and problems of the aging.” Always a systemic thinker Casey envisioned and offered concrete recommendations to train new professionals and to retrain existing staffing and administrators, basically to restructure public institutions.

Though times and technology have changed, Casey’s vision matters today as public institutions address 21st Century challenges. Genevieve M. Casey made a difference for her profession, for her students, and for the needs of a changing population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Access to justice – Law Librarians Define Their Critical Mission

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.

Aristotle’s words ring true as justice seekers cope with a host of sometimes violent challenges to law and justice. The words take on practical meaning in a recent publication Access to Justice,  http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Publications/products/atjwhitepaper.pdf

an insightful white paper written and adopted by the American Association of Law Libraries. This is a how-to guide to walking the walk for law librarians and for those who may not yet understand the role that law librarians play in the pursuit of access to law and justice for all.

Sara Galligan, Director of the Ramsey County Law Library, is the principal author of the white paper. The thrust of the paper is the powerful idea that “by pushing their own boundaries, law librarians can gain meaningful perspective on access to justice and can boldly assert their own unique contributions.”

For law librarians, Access to Justice presents a challenge and a road map. Not an end but a means, access to information is paramount. For those who cling to a stereotyped image of librarians the white paper offers enlightenment. A strength of the paper is the clear description of the diverse roles that law librarians play depending on their work setting; the paper presents a sort of “work plan” that expands the image and outlines the possibilities. For those outside the field the paper presents a “who knew?” overview of unrealized potential.

The strength of the white paper is the focus not on tasks but on mission – Access to Justice. Towards the shared goal of access to justice law librarians choose different paths, ranging from supporting the information needs of pro se litigants to building skills and values of law students to lending their information management skills to law firms that know more about the law than they know about how to plumb the depths of relevant legal resources.

The white paper also suggests ways in which law librarians can blend their skills with agencies whose forte is outreach – to legal aid agencies, partnerships with public libraries, to acquainting practicing attorneys with current resources essential to informed practice of the law.

Collaboration, currency of resources, expanding access and sharing the intellectual wealth are means to an end in this significant paper. The prevailing theme of Access to Justice informs the white paper and thus the work of law librarians who daily get up and do what needs to be done to assure access to justice for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Libraries & Open Government – Some post-conference reflections

Note:  Last May I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government, organized by the Center for Technology and Government, University of Albany, State University of New York and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  This post is the reflection that I wrote after that conference.  Though this is not a typical “Poking Around” post – in length, content or approach – I thought it might be of some interest to some readers:  M

Thoughts on The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government

Though I am not and never have been a public library administrator, the challenge of participating in this discussion of The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government excites and inspires me.  Because I lack the administrative bona fides my participation in the May conference was as an outsider who cares deeply about how we frame the issue and create effective approaches to the possibilities.

My professional background is as a librarian, working for the most part in multitype library collaboration.  I have also served as a member of the Minnesota State Board of Education, as founder and volunteer ED of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, on the ALA Legislation committee, and more.  At present I am the Outreach Coordinator with OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC-based coalition of civic society organizations, committed to transparency and accountability in government at all levels.   My thoughts are those of an outsider who cares about the untapped potential of public libraries in a changing environment, about open government and about the symbiotic relationship that calls out to be nurtured.  The question on the table is how to make that happen

In my decades of trying to link libraries and librarians with the fundamental principles of open government in a democracy I have observed and participated in the growing pains that shape ways we conduct government business in an environment transformed by information and communications technology.  Now, working inside the beltway, I have a visceral sense of the cataclysmic change that is reshaping the behemoth federal system and its relationships in the information tsunami.   Above all, I understand the challenge facing public librarians who, individually, institutionally and as a profession, must learn to swim in an information ocean that is teeming at high tide.

My reflections are based on experience and on a deep sense that public librarians must first clarify their perception of the “big picture” of open government, then shape policies and procedures that position public libraries as serious players – now, while the open government tide is cresting.

Briefly stated, we need to step back to position public libraries in a broader context – to avoid the inclination to rearrange chairs on the deck of the Titanic….. To wit, public libraries must seize the opportunity to make bold moves including, but not limited to, these:

  • Position libraries, library leaders and an expanding range of library staff higher up on the information chain. This requires a mental shift so that library staff, especially leaders, see themselves as links in a complex and fluid information environment in which virtually every institution is in flux and in which we’re all trying to figure out the policies and procedures of open government.  Public libraries need to engage as active players in the process itself.
  • Clearly articulate the value that public library workers of many stripes add to the open government mix.  Library leaders need to be more than dutiful administrators of their agencies; library boards, elected officials and other decision-makers must understand the potential of the institution.  Potential collaborators need to understand the range of services and, even more, the diverse pool of talent represented by the public library.
  • Engage in discussions of information policy OUTSIDE of the library setting – work with open government policy groups (e.g. state open government coalitions, national groups, including OpenTheGovernment.org) as well as with new enthusiasts such as Code for America and countless local manifestations of CfA-type groups.  Library leaders need to  have the patience to think creatively about how to harness the surge of energy and talent that hackers offer – to help direct all that effort to enhance open government.
  • Support open government as a concept at the federal, state and local levels. Virtually every special interest advocacy groups (e.g. environmental groups, food/ag groups, transportation advocates) has huge but unrecognized open government implications.  Advocacy groups need to understand open government first, THEN make the library connection, the “why” before the “how” of open government.
  • Act proactively and with passion – work with those organizations, individuals who set the public agenda, be anticipatory not reactive – not just with elected officials but the organizations, media, community leaders who set the pace and carry the message.
  • Get on boards and committees – LISTEN – don’t talk about the library – instead, identify the information “thread”, then show how the library can meet that need.  Build on and at the same time re-brand the traditional library role to meet contemporary needs and possibilities.
  • Better understand the complexities of government per se.  Librarians always focus on legislation, how to get more money to support libraries.  There have long been creative and successful efforts to link the role of libraries with adult learning, literacy, economic vitality.  There is a history and there are models of “insinuating” libraries in the broader contact.  Engaging public libraries in the all-inclusive concept of open government is more overwhelming, but it’s worth looking at the successes of history.
  • Pay closer attention to the executive branch of government – i.e. the role of regulation, how legislative mandates are actually implemented by executive agencies, what happens after a law is passed  – the devil in the details.
  • Connect with the media, an institution also in cosmic flux  – not just to promote the library but to understand the flow of information.  Serious journalists who are also re-positioning their institutions on the information chain can be effective partners in articulating the role of public libraries, convincing open government advocates of libraries’ potential and of guiding readers/viewers/listeners to resources available through and at the library.  Seasoned journalists are old hands of appreciating the importance of open government. They are also familiar with the rules and the tools, particularly FOIA.  The journalism world includes organizations of special journalists – health care, education, environment, agriculture, government, editorial writers, law and others that share with public libraries the job of informing the public.
  • Pay attention to the government documents depository networks.  I heard no mention during the conference of this existing system that operates somewhat sub rosa   The gargantuan system connects academic, special and public libraries with the information chain that has been in place for decades.  The system may not play the role or be the system it once was and what it could be, but it is a living network that should not be ignored.  Though the technology has changed the tools, the concept is solid – that public, academic and special libraries are a functioning and efficient distribution system for federal, state and local government information.
  • Learn from special libraries – corporate, law, health science, federal/state/local government librarians.  Though most do not serve the public directly, these professionals “think like librarians” and are adamant public library users and supporters.  They also share membership in library networks.  Special librarians are experts at anticipating and identifying their patrons’ needs and at collaborating with information partners across institutional lines.  If one of the strategies is to be mentorships and internships, consider collaborating not just with public but with special libraries, particularly state agency libraries that serve not only an agency but the general public.
  • Follow what’s happening in academic libraries, the training ground for public library users.  Suffice to say, the user cohort, faculty and students alike, has transformed expectations of services, access, the very role of the institution, the building, the staff, the resource base.
  • Likewise, heed the changes happening in schools – where learners and teachers alike have 21st century tools of access at their fingers but limited awareness of resources (public libraries or government information).  Work with educators, including school librarians and administrators, to raise the level of expectation as well as to forge information age skills in young learners.
  • Acknowledge and deal with the fact that very few people have an idea of how much government information is available, sometimes but not always accessible – or, for that matter, that the government is a major producer and disseminator of data, information tools, digital resources including huge archival resources increasingly accessible in digital format.  Work with open government advocates to educate the public about why it matters — why information by and about the government is the sine qua non of a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people – and the people have the responsibility and require the tools to fulfill that role.
  • Recognize that government information is organized and shared in ways other than traditional library materials.  Searchers, including public librarians, must understand the structure and processes of government as being other than the structure of knowledge that shapes traditional library classification systems.
  • Take into consideration the obvious fact that the differences among public libraries are huge – a small town library that is the primary source for residents is very unlike a major urban library that operates in an entirely different context.  One size does not fit all; while size determines strategy the  impact of the public library in the community served is parallel.  Find the common ground.
  • Validate the fact that government agencies that expand their outreach and openness by going through the public library will save money – that fact needs to be made clear to decision-makers, which means that libraries may have to provide metrics
  • Build on the fact that public libraries already provide extensive training on use of digital technology – access to free and open government information should be a focus of that training.  People can learn at the same time how to use government information about consumer issues, health care, neighborhood resources, environmental information, voter information (more than job info) as part of their ongoing training on the tools.  Information by and about the government is free – it’s also amazingly diverse and FUN.  Lots of great stuff for kids can be an entrée to the wealth of government information that is readily accessible.  People without means who are introduced to government information as part of their tech training

will incorporate use of free and open government information into their quiver of resources.

  • Find or plant library evangelists within appropriate networks.  At the local level this means nonprofits (environmentalists, parent advocacy groups, food safety, disabilities community) as well as neighborhood associations, faith community, immigrant groups, disabilities community, foundations, good government groups, and other forces of influence in the community.  Communicate through their channels- people go to information resources they trust….
  • The need for evangelists exists at the state and federal levels as well.  In the political arena, the principles and contours of open government are being shaped by a host of civil society organizations that influence the policies and procedures of federal government as well the implementation of practices that work their way through the information chain to end users at the local level.  Library evangelists working within the system are key to stressing the role of public libraries in assuring that information is accessible and useable for the end user.

Librarians are inclined to think they have to explain and to do it all themselves – sometimes it’s better to demonstrate, to listen and to collaborate on the common purpose of open government.  Public libraries must acknowledge that they have an image issue – they must adamantly reinforce the positive, the library as a pillar institution in a democratic society, while downplaying the stereotype, low expectation or invisibility that we must admit persists in the public mind.  To ignore the persistent public perception is folly – to reinforce an anachronistic image is to ensure that public librarians will never be at the table to engage in shaping open government principles, policies or practices.

I hope that whatever strategies conference attendees propose to promote public libraries’ engagement reflect a broad vision of open government and a proactive role for public libraries that may place unwelcome demands on institutions and individuals resistant to cosmic change.  My hope is that my observations are helpful in meeting the challenge