One need not venture far into the social media and news sphere to see that funding cuts to libraries are very much in the news and the minds of librarians across the country. No doubt this news is keeping some folks up at night. And we should be concerned because when one library system struggles, all libraries become much more vulnerable.
With that interdependence in mind, I got to thinking about how librarians need each other as librarians. We have professional skills that can support the fabric of all libraries, public, school, and post-secondary libraries in all shapes and sizes. It’s in our collective interest to ensure that all libraries are empowered, supported, connected and capable. But I got to wondering whether librarians as a species promote group survival.
The story of the three little pigs comes to mind. Using their available resources and capacities, they each built a house of different materials. The straw house didn’t work out so well for the first little pig. Neither did the house made of sticks for the second. And the brick house successfully thwarted the huffing and puffing wolf.
But what if the three pigs had combined their resources and abilities? What if all three pigs enjoyed the security of the brick house? They could even have made comfortable mattresses of the straw and used the sticks to fuel a fire to keep warm and cook meals.
(I particularly enjoy the David Wiesner version of this story where the incredibly creative pigs, thinking way outside of the box, make strategic alliances that guarantee more than survival — they thrive in a happily ever after way!)
Libraries are about sharing information. When we collect, contribute and share our own library data, we are supporting the collective story about libraries, stories that paint a national picture of library use and relevance. These data-powered stories help libraries in all jurisdictions.
Libraries are about teaching and learning. When we support collaborative approaches to training and learning opportunities, we are building the capacity of all libraries to deal with digital information and new literacies. When even the smallest libraries have the capacity and confidence to provide modern and relevant services, that helps all libraries. After all, we’re talking about the “library brand” here.
Libraries are about connecting information and technology. When we co-develop and take ownership of our own core library systems we are strengthening all libraries. Collectively, we create economies of scale, build do-it-yourself capacity, avoid duplication of effort, and present a united interface to the public. This enables libraries to direct more resources to engaging with their community to stay relevant. We also build community through our shared values and initiatives.
We’re stronger when we work collectively. But if we’re not taking the library collective into consideration when we make decisions, if we’re not being open and transparent about those decisions and the motivations behind them, then we’re contributing to the vulnerability of all libraries. If we’re making decisions that benefit a few libraries at the expense of the collective, then we’re not ensuring the group’s survival. We need to examine whether the decisions made by some libraries are creating undue pressures or constraints for other libraries.
All libraries are facing the question about whether libraries are still needed.
What keeps me up at night? That we won’t even need ourselves anymore.