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!