In the end, our anchors must be our mission and our community. The clarity and breadth of our mission allows us to see past what we are doing and glimpse what we might do. Our community – those with whom we work, those we serve and those we might serve – gives us the context to look at what we might do, and select what we should do.
In his presentation at the Changing Times, Inspiring Libraries summit, David Lankes talked about our mission:
The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES.
First, it’s about librarians, not libraries. This is about us and why we do what we do. Buildings, as Lankes mentions, don’t have a mission. By conferring the mission upon the institution and not ourselves, we may find greater authority for the changes we make but we also disempower ourselves as change agents. We have to have the strength to speak our minds and stride forward with the courage of our convictions.
Second, we spend a lot of time talking about how critical libraries are to society. Well, if our mission isn’t to improve that society in some way, we either aren’t living up to the potential we believe we have, or we aren’t as important as we think we are. My money’s on the first.
Third, it talks about Facilitating Knowledge Creation. These three words confront so many assumptions about what it is we do (not to mention what people think we do). Not just books but the making of things. Not keepers of books, but helpers to understanding. Not collections of words but knowledge itself. Not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake but knowledge that allows those we serve to create new knowledge. Not quiet reading of static facts but a collaborative, vibrant exploration of the changing world around us. The implications of such a wide vision go on and on, and open up so many possibilities.
Last, and I think most important, this mission emphasizes the importance of…Community
Humans are flexible, social creatures; the people around us give us context and bring meaning to our work. In many ways, the people around us define who we are, what we do and how we think.
Given our community context, we must stop assuming our value and talk more to the people who don’t believe in our inherent worth. We find out why they don’t use the library. We stop marketing what we have and start serving what they need.
We make our community as wide as it can be. We serve every person in our area who wants or needs knowledge, whether they know it or not. We reach out to those who can’t access knowledge and find new ways to help them reach it. We learn the priorities of our community and the individuals in it, and help them reach those goals with the knowledge we hold.
We cannot know that community from inside the library. That fact, more than any other, will shape the development of libraries for the future. Reaching out, we begin a conversation and collaboration that will both change us and tie us closer together. We’ll reach into our communities and learn about what they need. As we show them what we can do to help, we’ll also teach them about our needs and our priorities. We’ll all better understand our value to each other and the community.
In the end, the future of libraries isn’t really about providing the best service or being the perfect librarian. We won’t prove our value by shouting it from the hilltops.
We’ll find our path in the conversations we have with our community and the people in it. We’ll find our purpose, and our value, in the work we do together to make that community better.
Whether we are talking about a wider mandate for libraries, or deeper connection with community, I want to salute each and every one of us already moving (sprinting!) down that road.
In the meantime, for those of us who want to know more about library transformation or look at the amazing things librarians doing right here in BC, there’s a Library Transformation site on the Commons. If you see something that should be up there, send it in! After all, it would be a shame to have a site about change that didn’t!