the art of relevancy

Lots of talk in school (and other) libraries on how our spaces and materials are relevant to the Internet generation. This is part of an ongoing discussion which has probably lasted through all previous technologies that were supposed to put libraries out of business (remember radio and film as “the great educator” potential they had?) and somewhere alongside the “books are dead” theme. Today, with Google and the 2.0 web world, people are on the march again asking “what is the library really for?”

Fortunately, libraries have great PR and social capital (see here and here). But sometimes we worry–funding gets cut for other services like ours (nurses, police), fewer children experience our benefits, and the rise of the Internet generation makes us worry we might go the way of the toll booth operators. Plus, we are considered expensive investments and, in today’s view of Internet being “free” this can be a weapon against us (“is that ‘free’ as in ‘beer’ or as in ‘freedom’? is usually the retort).

But relevancy presents us with the tough choices of change; we seek to bend like the reed in the wind. Does offering video gaming make us relevant? What about adding a cafe? How about private conferencing rooms? What about maintaining our programs as they are–should we buy fewer books if people are reading less or is that a Manga Messiahself-fulfilling prophecy? As one librarian put it, “it was worth it to add gaming to the library, just to see a kid pick up a magazine and say, ‘Huh, this seems pretty cool…'”

The church constantly faces this relevancy question–yet, it looks more like PR work than evangelism. They also seek to bring the youth back in with gaming, with big screen entertainment, and even modern retellings of the Bible. At what price success?

It seems like the underpinnings, the mission, and the community combine to help form guidance as to “what’s next” to keep libraries in the minds of the youth when they turn away toward their private worlds–the act of contributing and sharing as a value-added service of the community (like public parks), the beauty of just having access (as opposed to other countries without as many libraries), enjoying a place without commercial advertising (what a concept!), and seeing themselves and their interests reflected in the collection. Oh yeah, and good funding and support from the community!

The Bible, aloud and African-American

I’m not any sort of Bible authority, but the Bible Experience: The Complete Bible looks like an excellent addition to the genre of Bible-readings. As with PRI’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, I am both impressed at its efforts to bridge the many divides–across the American cultural groups, between Hollywood and Christians, and across the generations of Americans. See this:

“We have a sight and sound generation who is not accustomed to the language of the Bible…so, to listen to it, while you multi-task is a more convenient and generational way to ingest in God’s word,” says the producer, Kyle Bowser.

While I, myself, am not rushing out to buy this for my friends, it seems like a great addition to a library, a tool for use in Bible study, as well as a way to compare your inner-voice with an audiobook interpretation.  Angela Bassett as the voice of an archangel, Samuel Jackson as the voice of the Lord, and Blaire Underwood as Jesus.

As the books go, so goes the library…

…is really more of a question, and an appropriate one for us teaching the younger ones these days.

In a professional meeting today, we discussed kids, technology, and media
and its effects on their ability to focus. Both speakers were Ph.D.s
and working in Bay Area independent schools and focused mainly on child
development and the brain in terms of the effects of multitasking and computing.

Of the many things that were recommended, quiet reflection time was among them.  I found this, of course, helpful as a Quaker to know that practice is both practiCAL and good for the brain in a media-driven world.

One of the strange turns of discussion happened when everyone turned to libraries and books–an old saw to play on the topic of “what is terrible about today’s media.”  One person summed it up directly: “My wife is a librarian, and she just can’t get those kids to stay off the computer games–it drives her nuts!”  As people began lamenting about the death of book reading, one of the presenters actually said, “I can’t remember the last time I read an entire book myself” and she was a teacher who recommended them to her students before using the Internet!

When I think about how busy people can be these days, it’s no wonder reading a book is becoming a lost art–taking time to read 300 pages, depending on what it is, can be a major time investment somewhere between 10-20 hours.  And that means finding that much quiet time, time where we aren’t called to react, participate, or engage with others which, in the city that I live in with three families to keep in touch with and multiple friends in various time zones, means I can be on the computer and “do” more than ever before to stay in touch.

What seems to be missing for those of us lamenting the library and books as “quiet” places is our own loss of time, our struggle to retain our sense of self in an ever-converging confluence of information and communication.  Where will the library stand in this, between being a facilitator of people and knowledge and space for quiet.