Of libraries, campfires and value

Last Friday we had a campfire in the library, literally 😉   And students gathered around it and sang.  Is that what a library is for?  Maybe not in traditional terms, but anymore, that is what I think of when I think of library.  A place to gather together and interact with one another and with information.

After all, gathering together to talk and learn–isn’t that why we come to spaces like school libraries or social networks or even company picnics and more?

There’s been a discussion floating around the blogosphere and twittosphere lately, from Darren Draper to Karl Fisch to Joyce Valenza to Doug Johnson to Cathy Nelson to Buffy Hamilton, as we ponder the future nature of libraries and purpose of library services as devices become more and more mobile (and more “able”).

A library is, to my mind, both a service, and a place for people.   Think of a school building itself.  Where do people get together and learn together in most school buildings?  Where do they “mix” with other students not in their class?  Where do they interact with knowledge, books, technology, and adults?

The library serves as a learning commons of sorts (I am sure I am borrowing that term from one of my illustrious colleagues, so forgive me!)

Doug asks,

Does a school need a library when information can be accessed from the classroom using Internet connected laptops?

The new question is uncomfortable, messy, and incredibly important and not restricted by any means to one particular school. It is one to which all library people need a clear and compelling answer.”

I think, no matter how ubiquitious the technology is, our students still read, still want to be inspired by reading, and even more importantly, still need a campfire around which to read, share, work, and learn.

Is that the only place that can happen?  No, so we do need to ask ourselves questions like Doug raises.

I responded to his post with some wisdom I gained from Don Tapscott in Wikinomics:

I was reading Wikinomics last night and ran over a passage that resonated with your questions. I want to blog about this further, but thought I’d share the passage, because it speaks to what we as librarians should consider:

Tapscott and Williams recommend taking stock, as you are here. They ask:
“What do your customers need today? What will they need in the future? How can we complement or add value to our existing products and services? What new market opportunities present the greatest opportunities for growth? As we develop new ideas, what can we deliver internally? What should we source externally? Are there exciting new clusters of innovation happening that we can tap into? Where can we work closely with partners to create even more value?”

I think as we each sort out the answers to those “essential questions” as Doug calls them, we should post our answers on our doors and windows for the school to see, just as Science Leadership Academy does.  We should let everyone know what we consider our core mission to be in simple, concise terms.  And then we should live that mission daily in our policies and practices and purchases.   All of which does involve asking ourselves some tough and important questions, but ones well worth asking.

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