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Friday, August 8, 2008

Is there really something for everyone at the public library?

I think, if you speak to most public library employees, you'll find at least one commonly shared viewpoint: that public libraries really ought to offer something for everyone in the community. Is that always easy? No. Does that mean you should abandon the pursuit of the ideal? No.

In the photo montage up above, you'll see a unique way in which we reached out to teens in our community this past week. On Wednesday, August 6, 2008, we hosted a live, noisy, rock and roll concert right on Library Plaza. Through the generosity of our Friends of the Library (and the programming genius of one William Harmer, Teen Librarian of the Baldwin Public Library in Baldwin, MI, who dreamed up the "Rock and Roll Library Tour"), our guests were indie rock band The High Strung. To say we were pleasantly surprised would be the understatement of the year. Josh, Derek and Chad of The High Strung were funny, talented, utterly lacking in "attitude," and a big hit with our audience, which included not only teens but moms, dads, little kids,seniors, and lots of passers-by just wondering what was up with the music. We were also thrilled to host opening act The Friendly Ghosts, from right here in Des Plaines -- Jimmy, Alyssa, Casey and Vince brought along quite a posse of fans and did themselves proud. (p.s. Ghosts -- am I spelling your names right? If not, post a comment here)

Libraries are spending a lot of time, energy and dollars these days to change their image with teens. Anime, manga, graphic novels (that means an illustrated novel, by the way, not inappropriately explicit material), pizza and movie nights, the latest trends in gaming and music -- it's all right here at the library, because teens have asked for it. If you're a teen and are reading this, check out our blog just for teens, The Blog of AWESOME, and consider joining our Teen Advisory Board.

You might be thinking, "Well, adding programs and materials just for teens isn't quite 'something for everyone.'" In a previous post, I wrote about our RFID tagging process. One thing many of us have commented on is how the tagging process, requiring hours of time in the book stacks, forces us to look at every section of our book collection. You know what? A lot of us find material that disturbs us, offends us, even makes us depressed. I, for one, really dislike books that seem to glamorize violence -- true crime books, or horror fiction. It's hard to stomach shelves full of books that disagree with my political views, but, there they are. Books that seem to misinterpret or direct hatred toward my particular religion can get under my skin.

While only a small portion of the books in our Library bother me, there are, of course, thousands of others that simply don't interest me. Maybe the topic seems boring, or beyond my comprehension. Maybe I don't speak the language, whether it's Gujarati or .asp or - gulp - trigonometry. Should the interests of librarians - or any small group of individuals - be the only deciding factor in what we purchase for our book stacks? Would we truly be a public library if we didn't offer something for every user in our community?

When you attend what librarians often refer to as "Library School," meaning, a graduate program in library and information science, one of the first lessons you're taught are the words of a wise thinker, S.R. Ranganathan:
  • Every reader, his/her book;
  • Every book, its reader;
  • Save the time of the reader.
I share those words with you here as a simple statement that we would be failures as librarians, failures to our profession and its traditions, if we didn't make every possible effort to provide something for everyone. Does that mean you, too, might find a book that disturbs you, or angers you? Yes. Does it mean many books in our library simply won't interest you or be of use to you? Yes. If you're here and using our library, however, that means you know there is plenty here for you -- and that goes beyond books, to our DVDs, CDs, programs and events. You may not need our materials at all: you may need a public computer, a meeting space, or simply a quiet place to cool off and use a clean restroom. We've got those for you, too. I'm very proud to work here in the Des Plaines community, rich in tradition and diversity, and a friendly, down-to-earth place. I'm also very proud to work for this Library, which takes seriously the call to provide the book for every reader, the reader for every book.

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