All things to all people?
Posted by lpearle on 18 March 2013
Recently I started working with The Center for Fiction (formerly known as the Mercantile Library). It’s one of the few remaining subscription libraries in the country, with a focus on fiction (obviously) and a specialty in what they call suspense, but I call mystery. There’s also a great reading room, many author events (this week, Jeffrey Deaver, Kristopher Jansma, M. G. Vassanji and Elizabeth Nunez), writing classes and… well, that’s it.
What I mean by “that’s it” is there are no rows of computers (wifi is only available to members of the writer’s studio). No plans to create a makerspace or purchase a 3D printer. No databases. Just an old-fashioned library, catering to the reading tastes of its members/patrons.
For some, that’s a bad thing. Our profession does a great job of telling us what a library today should be, how we must keep up with the technological times. And then there’s Terry Deary, saying that libraries should close (wonder what he thinks about a subscription library… people so committed to reading that they’re willing to pay an annual fee to belong, rather than “merely” support it via their taxes).
Yes, we could do a better job of discoverability for our unique collection, and updating the library website and blog is a priority. The same with creating great Readers Advisory tools. And cataloging those items that were purchased pre-1991. Those are coming along, with the intrepid intern crew helping out. The important thing is, we’re responsive to our members and their tastes. One of my weekly tasks is to pull together 4-7 books to send to our of our members, who returns the previous week’s books (she’s particularly fond of mysteries). Getting to know the tastes of other members has been equally fun.
It’s much the same at a school, when you get to know students and their interests. My local public library (with the exception of the guy who helped me get my library card) also knows me, although I don’t use them that much. But bigger libraries? Do they really know the people who walk through their doors? Do they really know what those people want in their collection?
It’s not that I’m against makerspaces or databases or technology. Far from it! I just wonder if that’s what the people who use the library really want, or need. Very few libraries have the narrow focus of the CFF, so collection development and program management can be difficult. Surveys might help. Talking to the patrons might help. Seeing what’s working and what’s getting used is critical. The point is, we need to be responsive to what works locally… not what our profession says should work.