Why libraries are better than McDonald's
By Deb Miles
Two years on from the publication of this article in Council Leader (June July 2014), State Library continues to support public libraries with funding, training and ideas to be ‘better than McDonald’s’. VISION 2017 for Queensland public libraries is one of a number of documents which has informed the Advancing Queensland Public Libraries Discussion Paper, open for feedback until 29 February 2016. The Paper aims to stimulate discussion on the future of libraries, and inform support services offered by State Library of Queensland, in order to ensure our libraries remain the community hubs we want and need them to be. Read on for the original article published in 2014.
Libraries and McDonald’s both have friendly staff, have increasing numbers coming through the doors and they usually have wi-fi.
Actually, there are more than twice as many libraries than McDonald's in Queensland. And there's so many more reasons why should go there instead. You don’t have to buy anything and the best thing about libraries is that they’ve got stuff you can borrow, stuff you can learn and stuff to do.
I popped into a few near me the other day and I was amazed. I live in Brisbane, so I realise that I am lucky to have some fabulous hubs of activity close by. There was an edible garden out the front as I walked in, there was a dad with his child in a bean bag watching a DVD, there was a group of teens doing their homework and a group of people with disabilities having afternoon tea.
Further on, there were children listening to a librarian tell them a story, a room full of women of all ages creating things and there were people in comfy chairs reading or working on their iPads or iPods or using the computers, while others strolled along the shelves looking at magazines, DVDs, audio books, CDs, or those good old fashioned and still much loved books.
Libraries foster the joy of reading. Reading leads to education. Education leads to jobs and economic development. Literacy builds life chances and libraries are an essential part of the learning ecosystem.
From literacy to literature, libraries support learning, education, skills development, community building and a sense of belonging. Increasingly they are co-located with other community facilities such as a museum or gallery or tourist information centres. Some are combined with swimming pools, or council offices.
Libraries also have the legitimate and valued role of collecting and sharing your community’s local history, heritage and identity. They are your community’s memory.
A force for change
I am an unashamed advocate for the power of a library to be a force for change. They know technology has changed their role, which has made them diversify and do things differently. They also know some people feel disconnected in their community and that people need to belong to something, that people love to learn, to contribute, to create and to share.
Libraries also know that they need to build their community, not only via online or mobile access, but by doing more things to attract wider and more diverse participation.
One regional library manager said to me, “We can’t just wait for people or the council to come to us, so I just look at what the council is focused on at the moment and think how can we be involved in that? Or I look through our community directory and find groups I don’t know about and call them and say let’s meet – let’s talk about what we both do and how we can work together”.
Here’s a sample of a few initiatives I’ve seen in libraries lately: Movie night, Finding your Family Tree, How to use Your iPad, Meet the Author, How to Use Facebook, Book Club, How to Make a Comic Book, as well as the possibility of borrowing a fishing rod, a plot of land, a musical instrument or a telescope.
One library book club wanted to do something useful while they met, so they started knitting blankets for the local homeless people whilst they discussed the books. The library became the drop-off point for wool donations from the community.
Some libraries do Reading with Dogs programs – through which children who are less than confident readers read aloud to dogs, giving them the chance to work with a non-judgemental listener.
The Food Tales initiative with public libraries brings together writers, readers, renowned chefs and local growers or producers into a local library. The library becomes the hub for these people with a shared interest to meet, share stories and recipes and learn new digital skills.
We’ve been looking at the skills needed to work in today’s libraries and are developing a training program to support library staff to better serve their community and position the library to reach more of the community and attract those who are hesitant come in to see what’s on offer.
New leadership skills are essential, along with skills in engagement, community development, building partnerships and establishing new relationships. If there isn’t anything good or relevant happening in the library then, like all businesses, it will decline. All civic institutions require patronage and community support.
Working with public libraries and councils, we partnered to develop a vision for the future (VISION 2017) to provide a forward-thinking vision for public libraries.
We agreed there were four themes that libraries should be: creative community spaces, physical and virtual connectors, technology trendsetters and incubators of ideas. These are simple, practical goals and there are some fabulous libraries doing this already.
So it’s time to reassess and rediscover your vital community asset.
Could you help your library?