The Institute of Museum & Library Services published its latest report on public libraries in the U.S recently. I went straight to the state stats. Looks like New Hampshire is in pretty good shape. More evidence that the demise of libraries is not imminent.
Meanwhile, we’re ready to start new projects for the new fiscal year at my library. One thing I got started on today is radically reconsidering the reference section — I’d like to circulate some books, move others to storage, and weed the ones that sit gathering dust, their spines indicating they’ve rarely been cracked open. It’s painful, because many of them are wonderful resources. But I’d like to make space for materials our patrons do want to use and check out.
A colleague of mine pointed out that this brings up a philosophical dilemma: should expand our offerings of popular materials like movies, even if it means decreasing our purchase of something else, like reference books? Some folks I’ve known in the library world lament that for some patrons, we’re just another video outlet. It can feel like what we are as libraries is in danger if we know some people only come in for movies. Or if we jettison reference materials.
If we want to continue to encourage literacy and a love of knowledge and learning, maybe the answer isn’t to buy interesting but rarely used multi-volume reference sets but to choose appealing books and circulate them. And maybe even pair them with movies to encourage cross-circulation? Say someone takes out the Harrison Ford film Witness. Why not offer some Amish fiction (very popular at my library) or a memoir about growing up Amish or a coffee table book about rural America? It’s hard to quickly pull together related materials on the spot, but a display area is a good place to do this. And catalog tools may be going that way. We use Novelist, which recommends related titles when a patron looks at a book our catalog. It would be cool if it pointed people to books when they looked at movies or music as well.
Whether our reference section shrinks or our dvd section grows, I’m happy to live in a region and a state where libraries are valued and well-used.