Indulge me for a moment. Please open a browser, go to Pandora and create an ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) channel. Turn the speakers all the way up. If you are anywhere near my age, you remember AM Radio and this station will bring back America in the 1970s in all its avocado greens, burnt oranges, and browns. Monte Carlos will roll slowly down the street and kids will be riding bikes with metallic blue or red banana seats.
If you are not my age, put on the music that was popular when you were eight years old…
Are you there? Are you in that place? That great place when you were eight when everthing was safe, a little money in your pocket and a trip to the corner store followed by a trip to the library was pretty much the perfect day.
Many of you in Library Land remember some years ago when the concept of “Library as Place” was the topic du jour. Even then we were struggling with identity. What kind of place we should be. Living in twilight, if you will…
At that time much of the discussion centered on the physical place and the models we have (such as Cerritos Millennium Library) for reworking the physical place libraries inhabit in the here and now. The next obvious conception is library as virtual place. That is, the virtual library patrons increasingly access from their homes and offices. The virtual place, despite the degree to which the Internet has become a part of our lives, is still in the constant transition as we try to provide mobile apps and meet the patrons where they live and play. Perhaps, the least obvious and most often overlooked conception of library as place is library as emotional place. This is the place, for many of us and even more of our patrons, that is rooted in the past, in our memories, in our first childhood experiences with books and stories, and the educational place dedicated solely to enrichment of the young mind.
I, of course, have my own emotional place for the library that is rooted in the past. My first memories of the library are directly connected to my older sister who was an avid reader and as a result, seldom had time for her pesky little sister who always wanted to play, not read. My sister took me to our local library when I was eight years old and left me to my own devices. It was at that time I discovered the hundreds of books on topics that were of interest to me, not the boring stories of romance my older sister was reading. I found books on vampires (a childhood fascination of mine, well before Twilight, of course) and on adventure, and more importantly, on little brothers and sisters. I devoured the Superfudge series and related far more to Fudge than I ever related to Peter. Or ever will for that matter. It was those early experiences with the library that taught me that all the information (and validation) I ever wanted was right there at my fingertips and all I had to do was look.
So let’s fast forward from my ornery childhood to my ornery present as I find myself working in the library, that place of wonder from my childhood. In my first few weeks as a library employee, I found myself caught, even consumed by the future rather than the present. Everything I heard and everything I read pointed to the future, the virtual place, to the ever pressing question of what libraries are to become. As the Director of Communication, I felt it my responsibility to grasp and understand that future and find a way to cement that vision in the minds of my new colleagues. My focus was where we are going and how important it is for my library to be the first to get there. But the more I learned about my new place of work and all of the individuals we serve, the more important the present came to be. I began to develop a strategic plan and found that my most important strategy, at this point in time, is to increase awareness of all of the amazing programs and services my library already provides, everyday, all the time. Not only do we have a place, we have (to quote my colleague from her article “Libraries We Love: Written Statement”) a “place at the table in the community.” And what we are doing matters. It amazes me on a daily basis. I am delighted with the charge of shouting about wonder that is the library.
So if the emotional place is rooted in the past and is a world of wonder, infinite possibility, and more importantly, hope, then the present is a rich and multifaceted with a strong and dedicated focus on public service, education, and artistic enrichment.
And the future? Well, the future, however, virtual, in my mind is undoubtedly assured as long as we remember that public service is most valued when it done with passion as well as compassion. We must remember that education is also a vital component of our role in society. And art? To me, that’s the easy part–we are the repository of art as much as we are the repository of knowledge.
So did you feel it? Did you get there? That great place when you were eight and walking home chewing Bub’s Daddy Grape Bubble Gum with a stack of books to read and a whole Saturday afternoon to do so…
I think T.S. Eliot captured it best when he wrote, “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.” What a rich and wonderful past we have to call upon and therefore, all the opportunity for a promising future.
And hey: Jeff Lynne, bless your electric soul. Your music makes me as giddy as an eight year old with a fresh stack of books on a Saturday afternoon. Thanks man.
And esteemed colleagues: my father always said (and I am sure this is some old Irish toast), may the best of your past be the worst of your future.