Thriving libraries?

I’m conducting my first pass at identifying local and national agenda that public library information services can contribute to. I’m in the grip of that info overload panic that I always get when starting a new project, sitting here with loads of browser tabs open, mobile on twitter, pencil and paper to hand (yes, really; v reliable tech) and a book open (ditto). Said book is Marylaine Block’s The Thriving Library and she’s doing a lot to calm me down; it’s easy to get carried away thinking that the info environment is changing by the minute and you need to be wired in 24/7, but people and their needs are really pretty constant in many ways. The info environment is always changing and it always will but in broader strokes those changes are slow enough for the interested parties to keep up. One of the benefits of a degree in psychology that I have found is a faith in human nature, for better or worse. People find new ways of doing stuff they want to do (and have always wanted to do since prehistory) and that for me is at the heart of Library 2.0: communication, linking people up with each other and ideas, or as E.M. Forster had it “Only connect”.

It’s easy to get carried away with neat ideas on how public libraries can change lives, which they can and do, but practicality and realism need to be injected into the mix somewhere down the line. As one of my mentors once said: that’s a nice idea but does it get us to where we want to be? Is it part of our core offer? I think that was one of the biggest lessons I learned in my first “proper” job: to templer bluesky thinking with recourse to strategy. The sort of thing that would have had my younger self frowning at the bummer that feels like it puts on the fun, but older, wiser, more experienced me now thinks:

  • let imagination run wild
  • capture all of that rich thinking
  • draw out some themes then look at outcomes, where would that get us?
  • draw it together into concrete plans with an idea of what success looks like
  • have a go, play with it, take some risks

Something like that anyway! It gets the grey cells firing anyway.

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