State Librarian Discusses Changing Role of Libraries at UMA Forum
Photo courtesy of Rachel Paling
Augusta- Technology changes and evolving community needs are rapidly reshaping the role of public libraries in society today and the trend will likely continue well into the future. That was the message from State Librarian, Linda Lord, at a University of Maine at Augusta sponsored forum, Global Focus, Local Impact: Trends in International Librarianship, on Monday.
“To meet the needs of today and the future, professional librarian competencies must change,” said Lord. “It’s not enough to love books, or heaven forbid, to want to work in a serene, orderly atmosphere of stability – librarians need to be innovators in adopting new technology and tailoring programming and services to meet the needs of their patrons and greater community.”
Lord noted that many libraries now serve as technology hubs, where people come to access the internet on a public computer or Wi-Fi connection, receive computer training, or learn how to use tablet and e-reader devices. Since the launch of the Maine School and Library Network in the late 1990’s, every public library in Maine has had access to free internet access for patron use. In nearly 70 percent of Maine towns, the public library is still the only place for free internet access.
“Technology has also changed the way libraries think about their collections and its accessibility to the public,” Lord said. “The majority of Maine public libraries are part of the Maine InfoNet Download Library consortium that allows patrons of those libraries to download e-books from home 24 hours a day. A growing number of libraries are digitizing books, images and maps in their collections and posting that content online for the world to find and appreciate.”
And while technology has made it easier for people to access information from home, libraries are doing a better job than ever finding ways to bring people together for learning, entertainment, and cultural enrichment.
“Today’s libraries and the libraries of tomorrow are as much about connections as collections – they are connecting people with ideas and with each other,” said Lord. “Libraries are looking outside of their walls to collaborate with partners on new programming on topics like financial planning, preliteracy for children, tax preparation, and consumer law.”
She cited Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor as an example of how innovative programming provides value for patrons, noting that the library offered 321 programs in 2013 with over 7,200 people attending.
“Libraries have been, and always will be, a gathering place for people of all ages and every economic and social background, a designation that cannot be claimed by any other public entity,” she said. “But in thinking about what will be in the next chapter for libraries, what comes to mind is a quote from Alan Kay: ‘the best way to predict the future is to invent it.’”
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