One of the biggest challenges for libraries – public or otherwise – is the issue of relevancy. In an era where you can download an eBook in a minute and use Google to answer your questions, how can the library maintain its value?
I think the answer lies in creating innovative collections and programs that users are unlikely to find anywhere else.
For example, I recently read a fascinating article about a library in Oakland that, in addition to traditional materials like books and DVDS, also has a tool lending library. How amazing is that? They saw a unique need in their community, met the need, and now have a corner on the market. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for new tools they might not be able to afford, patrons can rely on their local library (which, in turn, proves its relevance).
One library near me, The Palm Harbor Public Library, features a vinyl lending library – complete with a record player available for checkout – and the patrons there love it. Our library is in a community where gardening is hugely popular, so we have a “Seed Library” where people can donate and exhange whatever plants they need for their gardens. These are services that library patrons can’t find anywhere else, which makes us valuable community resources (and helps ensure our survival).
Another way libraries can increase their competitiveness is by offering unique programming. Rather than perpetuating old stereotypes of libraries as places where crotchety old ladies with buns shush you incessantly, we need to rebrand the public library as a community gathering place.
Our children’s department, for example, offers traditional children’s programming like story times. However, we also offer more innovative programs like yoga, Zumba, and Wii Wednesdays. In my teen section, I put out board games and other activities (instead of expecting my teens to sit there in silence). Best of all: we provide these services for free, which is something not even the almighty Amazon can boast about. 😉
By finding and focusing on these niches, libraries can provide vital services for our communities, thereby insuring our place within them for generations to come.