The closing panel, Future Focus, was composed of
- Misty Jones, Director, San Diego Public Library;
- Bobbi Newman, Community Outreach & Engagement Specialist, National Network of Libraries of Medicine;
- Gary Schaffer, Director, Library & Information Management Programs, University of Southern California; and
- Larry Magid, Technology Analyst, CBS News and Columnist, San Jose Mercury News and Forbes.com
The panel was moderated by Jane Dysart, IL Program Chair, who asked the panelists a series of questions (shown in italics below). Here is an edited transcript of the conversation.
What in your past experience has influenced you to think about the future?
Larry: Fake news is a symptom of a lack of information literacy. The ability to verify and parse information takes a village, which it cannot make out of thin air. You need verifiable data. Sometimes I need help, and I have relied on libraries for that. It is easy to make a mistake and get the wrong area, which is one reason why it is so hard to stop fake news. You have a right to use your perspective, but hopefully you are basing it on a set of facts.
Gary: When I first came to libraries I saw marketing opportunities everywhere. For example, we are not promoting performers, but we are advertising that we have their works. Tap into the creative part of your brain to solve problems.
Bobbi: Coming to conferences has been important over the years for me to make sure I was not operating in a silo. Talking to people from different backgrounds or in different-sized libraries is important to get different viewpoints. Libraries operate in diverse communities and are part of them, which is what makes them unique.
Misty: I did not go to the library as a child, but went into library and information science because it looked attractive. When I started working in a library, I loved it from the start because I realized that we do change people’s lives. How dare you ask if we’re relevant; do you realize what libraries do for the community? It is my personal mission to never have anyone ask the relevance question again. Always be a vital part of the community and be a part of a vital service. Redefine what the community needs to be.
Tell us about metrics.
Misty: We have a program called “do your homework at the library” and hire teachers to be point people in the center. We got a lot of push-back from council members, so we gave them a year’s worth of metrics to show that we had 5,500 kids using the program in the first year for 40,000 hours. We tracked how many grade levels they went up and the major subject that they studied. Now parents are also taking classes in some libraries, so the program became a vital community resource.
What combination of learning, technology, and collaboration will spark innovation and creativity?
Bobbi: I don’t think technology is the solution to social problems; it is just a tool. That is where libraries are so important. Collaboration and learning will be key. Everybody wants librarians to help them. You have the keys to your organizations. Libraries fail at this because they don’t partner.
Larry: Technology does not create problems either, but it can amplify them. Here are things that are starting to be used in libraries and will have a large impact on social problems and the acquisition of knowledge: virtual and augmented reality, Amazon Echo, and the amazing things that artificial intelligence is going to unleash. Properly managed technology can help us solve our human problems.
Bobbi: Those who need the Echo the most won’t be able to afford it.
Gary: We are offering programs on collaboration to identify what the community is trying to accomplish. We are looking for ROI. Identify your partner’s mission andoffer the library’s help to solve their problems. Build evaluation into this.
Have you seen some interesting or exciting partnerships?
Misty: Not all partners are the right ones. For a long time we jumped at the chance to partner with anyone. Now we are picky who we partner with. We just started a partnership with the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) Extension program. We are paying attention to what is going on in the community, the workforce development, and the education kids are getting so they can be recruited by companies in the area and talent does not have to be imported. We are the educational place for everyone. Who can we work with? People want to work with libraries because they have access to the entire community.
Gary: We also have a high measure of trust.
Bobbi: A library in Indiana is partnering with the Alzheimer’s association to help people give end of life care. It launched a series of programs and provided meeting space.
Gary: We entered into a partnership with Starbucks and installed the first Starbucks in a public library in the US. People were hired to work in the Starbucks shop but were still library employees. All revenue after royalties went to the library. That is a partnership that makes the library relevant on many levels. A different type of person—those oriented to customer service—applied for those jobs and became a recruiting track for new employees. Starbucks wants vivacious and outward-focused people and so do libraries.
What do you think will be most challenging for us in the next year or two and what do we need to deal with those challenges?
Misty: Our biggest challenge is going to be how to remain relevant. We are competing for people’s time and attention. We must make the library an experience and tie into the community. Stop telling them what is best for them and let them tell you that.
Bobbi: Make money, countering people who think libraries will become extinct, and make people understand what libraries do and how they function. But the most important thing is to realize that not everything that matters can be measured. The outcomes matter more.
Gary: Improve the perception of libraries going away. Some libraries have 10,000 people/day walking in. Talk about what libraries do. The perception is that a library is just a book warehouse and all information is on the internet. Educate people. Who is the problem: the city council that defunds the library or the staff that did not tell them what the library does? Always have a presentation ready to go. Talk to funders—they are required by the IRS to give away some money, and you are helping them! But don’t take money for things that are not in your strategic plan.
Larry: The reason why I am a journalist who writes about libraries is that I have been to this conference for years. Talk to the journalists in your community because they can get the work out. This community has a huge public relations challenge to let the world know how relevant they are. You must monetize by getting the word out.
Misty: Shove the library down people’s throats so they understand what we are doing.
Gary: Shove it down with kindness, keep fighting the good fight, and don’t get upset with people when they don’t understand. Find something that makes the library relevant for them. Look for hooks of relevance.
Larry: Be thankful you are not in my business: 47% of the population thinks the media makes stuff up. Realize that what you do is critically important and you are more relevant than you have ever been. Make sure that the libraries are put forward as bastions of truth and light. Form alliances with anybody who will listen and understand the vital role that the library plans.
Bobbi: Libraries are powerful partners in your community. You are a big deal—act like it.