Thursday, 9 August 2007

The future?

What does the future hold for public libraries? I know you'd do something more lucrative than answer that question if you were gifted with the ability to see the future (possibly while hopped up on goofballs), but stay where you are and keep reading.

It's something a lot of us have been thinking about lately. MLA has completed the initial consultation work around Blueprint, and is now making use of the feedback. Talis has an informative, ongoing series of podcasts on the subject. And I've spent some time thinking about where I fit into all of this (my preferred mode according to MBTI is introverted thinking, so I do stuff like this a lot!).

But today's professional introspection was inspired by an email on NGC4LIB about a post on Tim Spalding's Thingology. Tim (of LibraryThing fame) says this:

I have seen the future of libraries: It is to spend the future discussing the future of libraries.

It's starting to look that way, isn't it? Maybe it's time we accepted that we're living in the future now. Maybe it's time we started doing something other than just talking about it.

One of the most popular criticisms of public libraries is that we're not adequately prepared for the impending skills shortage when the wave of librarians recruited in the '60s and '70s retires. As someone who struggled to find a professional post, but who is apparently pretty darned good at this librarianship thing, I'm offended by that. There aren't enough jobs for newly-qualified librarians: either that or the library schools are churning out librarians without relevant, modern skill sets.

What's more, we're addressing the perceived shortfall in leadership capability. I completed the Future Leaders strand of MLA's Leading Modern Public Libraries programme this year. Future Leaders was put in place to equip the leaders of tomorrow - those of us who aren't necessarily in management roles right now - with the skills to lead the profession. It's by far the most rewarding, realistic and usable course I've been on. 294 people have been through that process, which is probably more than we technically need.

I was talking to someone the other day about the crisis in public libraries. There is no crisis. There are challenges and changing landscapes, but there have been since public libraries began, well over 150 years ago. Challenge is not a new concept in libraries. One of my colleagues was tasked with researching the history of one of our branches recently: the minutes of the Library Committee from the 1930s were filled with issues like librarians' (relatively low) salaries, whether enough books were being loaned, and what the purpose of libraries actually was. Does this sound familiar to you?

The fundamentals of the service haven't changed, nor has the context. We'll continue to change, just as we always have.