Last week Wednesday was our day care's anniversary and they threw a pancake breakfast to celebrate. I walked in the door with my two kids, and one of my library patrons looked up from her seat at the table and said "Heather! Hey, that's my librarian!" I work on the opposite side of the county, so this doesn't happen often. The day care owner told me my patron used to work in the baby room ages ago. Small world, for sure!
As I walked over to get my kids seated and grab a plate of pancakes, my patron asked me for an ereader recommendation. I get ereader and ebook questions ALL. THE. TIME. I love it. I am the ebook guru. And I'm glad I can say the Kindle will be compatible with library ebooks in the near future, it's made more than a few library patrons happy already.
So, I'm reading this article at the NYTimes this morning, (A Paper Calendar? It's 2011) and thinking to myself, "computer meltdown? PDAs? What is this, the '90s?" I have an old Filofax cover going dusty in my closet because I use Google Calendar religiously. If it's not there, it's not scheduled, as my hair salon has learned to their annoyance. The Calendar app is the first swipe to the right on my smartphone, frequently accessed and updated.
Meanwhile, the catalog consortium my library participates in is still arguing about 100% sharing of DVDs and audio books. I pointed out at a meeting last week that Ford just announced they're phasing out CD players in their cars. And someone else recently did the stats and figured out that 30% of Internet traffic is from people watching Netflix. "We're talking about formats that are already dying," I said. Heads nodded around the room.
Last night I was telling my mom about our new TV (early anniversary gift) and about how it has apps like a smart phone. She was looking at DVDs at Amazon and asked what Amazon on Demand was. I said "on our new TV, you log into your account using the TV's Amazon app, and then it connects to the wireless network and streams the video." It does Flickr and HuluPlus and Netflix and the weather and Pandora, too. The remote has a slide-out keyboard like Jon's phone. Makes the cable box and DVD player feel more than a little superfluous.
Technology, and how people access information, is changing so fast that I don't think a 5 year strategic plan is worth the paper it's printed on. Three years maybe - any more than that and I think goals need to be so broad they're almost useless. And I frequently read worrisome articles about how libraries are going to be pushed out of business thanks to all this easy access to information via technology.
Then I go to work, where a good chunk of my district can't get high-speed internet access in any way, shape or form unless they come to the library. I see the iPad owners who come use our wifi because AT&T coverage in the village is nil. I spend an hour at the desk and answer 2 or 3 questions about ebooks. I head to my office and work on the details of adding four more public workstations to the library's computer stable and write a blog post about job-hunting on-line. Access to technology is not the same thing as access to information, and vice versa.
I have a librarian friend whose kids (about the same age as my two) go to a Waldorf school. Part of their teaching approach is that kids should have limited exposure to media, so her kids don't get any computer access at all, and only get an hour of TV a week on the weekends. I asked Otto what he thought of that idea. "I think that's TERRIBLE!" he said. A pretty strong reaction for him. Then again, he taught himself to mouse at 3 by playing at the PBS Kids site.
It's an odd line for libraries to walk, between the super-connected and the disconnected. In both cases we become a last-line defense. We're where the super-connected come when their home broadband connection fails, or where the disconnected come to browse printed books and DVDs. To me, it feels like the gap is growing exponentially. At the same time that I'm building my Pinterest idea board for home improvement, I'm digging around in the back issues of Harvard Business Review at my local library to access an article that isn't available through any of the library's on-line databases.
Budget cuts and a failing economy only add to the pressure to offer resources for people who can't afford them otherwise. High-speed internet access to get to digital materials isn't optional. Access to print materials isn't optional either, since not everything we want to read is sold in ebook form. Nothing is 100% available in either format, so you need both. For every Trustee I have that texts me, there's another who has to be talked into getting an email address. We post program posters downtown and create digital versions for posting on the web site and Facebook.
The past two budget cycles at work have been tough, and this year doesn't promise to be any better. My fingers are crossed that next year at least sees us stabilizing -- and I'm grateful that things haven't gotten any worse than they have. As a patron said to me the other day while commiserating about the slim pickings on the new fiction shelf, "at least we still HAVE our library!"
True. Even on days when not even I quite know how to define what the library does, I know that it's important that we're there. We unlock the doors, shelve the books, reboot the wireless server. We do our best to facilitate access to the resources our users need. Not perfectly, I know, but I'm glad we do it well enough that my patrons are happy to see me and ask reference questions at pancake breakfasts.
And based on that feedback, I don't think Otto has to worry that his own access to the tech he loves will be cut off anytime soon. There's room in our lives for both screen time at LEGO.com and printed books at bedtime. We walk that line at home too, just like my patrons, just like the library.
I know I fall on the tech side, believe me. I've been a gadget girl since long before entering grad school. But if I'm honest, I'll admit that there's an old-school print calendar hanging in the laundry room, too.