Libraries in our schools and community: How much reinvention is needed?

I was surprised to read in the Dec. 25 Strib last week that Benilde-St. Margaret’s School has gotten rid of print books in its library and made it into a digital learning center: Stacks of books are history at Benilde library

Benilde libraryLeaders at the school in St. Louis Park decided against trying to duplicate what area public libraries offer. Instead, they will emphasize teaching the school’s 1,200 students to find reliable information electronically.

It is among the first schools in the state to take out stacks and transform its library into a digital learning center.

This is relevant for Northfielders, since the Transformational Technology Project at the Northfield Public Schools is moving to the next stage.

Two days later this article appeared in the Dec. 27 NY Times:  Libraries See Opening as Bookstores Close

Today’s libraries are reinventing themselves as vibrant town squares, showcasing the latest best sellers, lending Kindles loaded with e-books, and offering grass-roots technology training centers. Faced with the need to compete for shrinking municipal finances, libraries are determined to prove they can respond as quickly to the needs of the taxpayers as the police and fire department can.

… many libraries are culling their collections and adapting floor plans to accommodate technology training programs, as well as mini-conference rooms that offer private, quiet spaces frequently requested by self-employed consultants meeting with clients, as well as teenagers needing space to huddle over group projects.

This is relevant for Northfielders since A) the City of Northfield has begun a search for a new library/IT director; and B) the proposed expansion of the Northfield Public Library is likely to soon be considered by the Northfield City Council.

That NY Times article prompted this Room for Debate feature: Do We Still Need Libraries?

  • future of librariesFailing to Close the ‘Digital Divide’ by Susan Crawford, visiting professor, Harvard Law School. The demand for libraries’ limited resources has outstripped the supply of both computers and bandwidth.
  • More Relevant Than Ever by Luis Herrera, city librarian, San Francisco. Libraries are a place for personal growth and reinvention, a gathering place for civic engagement.
  • It’s Not Just Story Time and Bookmobiles by Buffy Hamilton, school librarian, Canton, Ga. An old institution is incorporating new roles: as “makerspaces,” as centers of community publishing, and as digital learning labs.
  • For Gathering and for Solitude by Matthew Battles, author, “Library: An Unquiet History.” We still need spaces for making knowledge and sharing change, and some of those, surely, we will continue to call “the library.”

One Comment

  1. kiffi summa said:

    This is a very relevant issue given that NF is now in a search for a new Library Director.
    First, let me state that I believe the Library Director position is a unique one within the City’s departments.
    And there is no way it should be combined with any other city department, or division, job.

    Witness the admitted problems when our exceptionally competent Library Director, Lynne Young, was influenced to absorb the Park and Rec responsibilities. I have no doubt that this unfortunate combination of job responsibilities contributed to an early retirement decision by Ms. Young.
    What a loss! Our library has thrived in every way under her direction; consistently enlarging its services to the region, while dealing with dwindling budgets.

    I’m not sure when the job description was posted on the City’s website, but the due date for applications is Jan 28. … so let’s say approximately a month of searching out applicants.
    Definitely not a long enough time for this important city department leader.
    ***Has the opening been advertised in professional Library journals?
    To not do so, and leave it up to a search firm that deals predominantly with City employees, will emphasize the other half of this proposed position, that of IT Director.

    When the City Administrator spoke to the Council about upcoming hires, he noted that the job of Library Director would be combined with IT Director..
    But .. he also noted that Human Resources would be combined with a community services job which would manage citizen communications, the website etc.
    Does not that sound like the appropriate combination with IT services?
    If a person is managing the website, and the communications with citizens, does that not fit precisely with the IT skills?

    That combination which seems so much more logical to me, would leave the Library Director as a unique stand-alone position, and possibly leave the Human Resources bit open for a contracted, not full staff position, as has been discussed previously.

    This is in my mind, a huge policy issue, and deserves a full discussion by the new Council. I do not believe that the importance of the Library in our community deserves to be an administrative decision.

    P.S. By the way, you might be told that the Library Board and Staff approve of the Library/IT combination. I am told that that was not their first preference, but a compromise position, after finding no acceptance for their first preference.
    Whose choice is this to make?
    I hope the new Council will take this up,with all seriousness, not with a new council ‘rubber stamp’ …

    January 4, 2013

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