It’s the Latest, It’s the Greatest, It’s the Library

LibraryIn 1967, when I was 10 years old, an ad campaign for libraries swept the nation.

There’s a place for you and a place for me,
it’s the local public library.
They have books and things
that they lend for free.
It’s the latest, it’s the greatest, it’s the library.

The campaign was pretty much wasted on me. A book junkie from a young age (aren’t most writers wretched biblioholics?), libraries have always been magical places. I got stickers and bookmarks and other ridiculous prizes during summer reading programs as a child. I studied and slept on the library couches in college. I took my baby daughter to reading time. And when Dimitri and I would travel, we would seek out libraries as places to gain instant info about a community (and more recently, free wifi!).

As we’ve built Creating the Future, libraries have meant more and more to us. Several of our Creating the Future fellows are librarians, some working within public library systems, others working within statewide library associations. And last year, several of us had the privilege of facilitating a full day workshop with 50 library leaders from all across our state.

Educational, informational,
entertainment that’s sensational.
It’s a way of life, it’s for you and me.
It’s the latest, it’s the greatest, it’s the library.

What has changed since I was a child (or maybe it was always so, and those of us on the outside never realized it…) is that libraries are no longer about books or even about education; they are about community.

Through our work with library leaders over the past few years, we have had the opportunity to ask questions that have led to powerful answers about community and connection, about bringing people together and bringing out the best in them.

  • If our public library were 100% successful, what would life in our community look like and feel like? What would life be like for young children? For seniors? For high school kids? For working parents?
  • Who else in our community is passionate about creating that future? What might we all accomplish together that none of us could accomplish on our own?
  • What role could our library play in that work? What role could each individual in our library system play in making that dream a reality, in the day to day work each of us is already doing?

They have histories, they have mysteries
And for mothers, books of recipes.
See a movie show, hear a symphony.
It’s the latest, it’s the greatest, it’s the library.

Which leads to the work I’ll be doing this week, addressing 300 people at one of the most innovative library systems in the country, in Richland County, South Carolina. I’ll be asking them many of these same questions.

But you don’t have to work in a library to answer. So I”m asking you…

• If your own local library were 100% successful in its work, reaching for everything a library can make possible, what would life be like in your community?

• And what might libraries do to help make that dream a reality?

Many thanks to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for the lyrics, and for a synthesized MP3 of the library jingle. And many thanks to Marilyn Jenkins of the Allegheny County Library Association for introducing us to the Main Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where the photo was taken.

10 Responses to It’s the Latest, It’s the Greatest, It’s the Library

  1. There’s been discussion like crazy at Facebook on this. I’ll share some of that here (and encourage people to post comments here, so we can all get inspired together!!)

    From Laura Piazza:

    “Where do I start? Literacy support! Homework help! Help for job seekers! Reliable and credible information provided by professionally trained individuals! Films! Audio! Databases! Computer access for the least among us! Children’s programming! Public spaces for knitting groups and committee meetings and English-as-a-Second-Language practice! Book clubs! Author visits! One-on-one help to find the answers you need! Support for seekers of a GED and a second chance! Story time (and laptime for babies!)! Access to information on all sides of an issue – not just what the culture wants you to know! Newspapers and magazines by the dozens! We should add that this is the work of public libraries, but medical/college/law/prison/athletic and many others specialize. And the Library of Congress supports all of us (including archiving tweets)! And did I mention FREE thanks to our tax dollars?!? This isn’t possible in every country. And, actually, the sad truth is that it will only matter if folks use libraries.”

  2. And this, from Jayne Cravens:

    “When I was a teenager, I’d go to my home town library in Henderson, Kentucky and read about the broadway plays I would never see. I would go through the Periodical Guide to Literature and read magazine articles about Steven Spielberg. I’d look up reference books on all sorts of topics I wanted to know more about and learn about careers I would never have known about otherwise. Now, 35 years later, I go to the little community library where I live in Oregon and look around the place, at the people looking for jobs, at parents reading with their children, at people looking over movies, at the COMMUNITY of the place, and I wonder what we’d do without it.”

  3. We had a blogger write about Pima County Public Library (PCPL) several years back, calling the library a “powerhouse that … connects, and enlightens residents to create more opportunity.” PCPL focuses on the community, its conditions, and its talents to shape and sustain relevant programs and services in changing times. PCPL has helped me to frame my professional vision that a public library has the potential to take the citizens it serves and support them as they are stewards of the community.

  4. Garden produce exchange. Music performance space. Lecture space. Check out tools. Check out an expert (or person with interesting background)–schedule a meeting with someone. Skills exchange (“need errand transportation, will trade pottery classes”). Check out artworks–borrow a sculpture or photograph. Exhibit space for art. Adult learning on any range of topics. Hub for finding people of similar interests–like players for a brass choir or singers for caroling. Performance and lecture space. Mustn’t overlook research librarians.

  5. Libraries have always been about community, Hildy. But now they are “unbound” and busting out of their walls, taking to the streets – and schools and businesses and chambers of commerce and all the other local organizations that are collectively working to help our communities realize their highest potential. It’s a movement! (Having lived through the 60’s and 70’s I have some first-hand knowledge of what that means.) Technology allows us to make reading and information even more accessible, portable, and available. Librarians are serving as imbedded support for municipal planning commissions and community development corporations. Service providers are imbedded in libraries: community nurses, social security advisors, Medicaid specialists, even attorneys! In the midst of this madcap world of ours, where we’re all feeling “teched out”, libraries are spaces where the community can convene, connect, and dream!

  6. Our local Library is proud of not being “your Grandfather’s Library,” and offers community events, entertainment, tax support, computer and tech classes, educational programs,ebook classes, and the internet library that includes online resources,databases for research and ebooks. The Friends of Washoe County Library (a 501C3)support the programming and purchase of new materials by raising funds through events and book sales. The Friends were able to give $100,000 last year for new materials and programming.

  7. I love these and then some! Libraries as “spaces where the community can convene, connect, and dream.” Hubs for people to find each other. Libraries as powerhouses of connection, enlightenment and opportunity. Libraries supporting citizens as stewards of the community. Wow.

    If all that were fully realized – what might communities look like? And to those who listed projects and programs, if those projects and programs were 100% successful, what would your community look like (not your library, your community)?

    Can’t wait to read more!

  8. I come from a different perspective in libraryland – as a fundraiser for libraries. I work to help libraries focus not on their own needs, but how they are a conduit for resources to solve community needs. I believe that everyone is a philanthropist, giving from their personal wealth of time, talent, and money to be a “rainmaker” in solving community needs – and help folks achieve their dreams both personal and communal.

    Using a matrix of Shared values and Collective action: “At libraries, through opportunities for learning, our children dream about becoming scientists, artists, musicians, computer geeks, doctors, nurses and more. As teens, their dreams expand as they learn to research, to create, to problem-solve and explore other worlds. Our children grow into lifelong learners and leaders in our community and our world. Changing lives, one person at a time, is how we guide our community to a better place.”

  9. Strong libraries will lead to strong communities.
    People are obtaining job skills at the library.
    Teens are receiving mentoring at the library.
    We are helping families get children ready to read by kindergarten at the library.
    People can research their personal history, read an ebook or learn about their auto-repair needs without ever leaving their home…by visiting us online at the library’s website.
    The possibilities are really just beginning to surface. The range of customers we serve is more diverse than ever before. I’ve heard the library referred to as “the people’s university.” We help support and start conversations. The public library is not only the great equalizer, it is the great connector.

  10. I’m a big fan of all things library. My life was deeply affected–for the better– because the world opened up for me with my weekly visits to my local library in rural Iowa.
    So, based on that history, my answers:
    • If your own local library were 100% successful in its work, reaching for everything a library can make possible, what would life be like in your community?
    I live in a town where the library is a key part of the community, offering opportunities for people of all ages, a used book store, a cafe, and an awesome interlibrary system that’s practically state-wide. The only thing that would make it better would be if it were open on Sundays, and later on Fridays and Saturdays (currently closes at 5 pm Fridays and 4 pm Saturdays).
    • And what might libraries do to help make that dream a reality?
    I think that was also answered above.

    On Twitter, I commented about a nearby community and its problems. Illinois has special taxing districts, and library districts often are separate from municipalities. However, in our capital city, Springfield, the library system is part of the city government. The employees and the budget are tied to the city budget. I don’t know details, but there are problems because when there are budget problems in the city, libraries are easy to cut. When I moved to this region in 1996, Springfield had one main downtown library, and 3 branches. Two of those branches were in very low-income areas of the city. All 3 branches have closed.
    To meet the unmet need for libraries, a nonprofit library was created in one of the areas where a library was closed. Here’s a story about its 2011 opening:
    And here’s their website:
    It’s great that the people in this part of the city are getting library resources, but it makes me very very sad that the public library system has failed to meet the needs of its community.