Jour­nal­ism — the cat­a­lyst that con­nects com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures in pub­lic li­braries

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

Ilove li­braries and have for as long as I can re­mem­ber.

When I at­tended a US univer­sity as a for­eign stu­dent in 1996, a friend of mine re­ferred me for a job at the school li­brary. I was thrilled be­cause it fed two of my pas­sions — a vo­ra­cious ap­petite for news and in­for­ma­tion and a fas­ci­na­tion with emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy. The li­brary was a trea­sure trove of both.

I could ac­cess news from, and about, my home coun­try that

I never had the op­por­tu­nity to read be­fore. And I could use the com­puter lab and data­bases to make the ex­ten­sive re­search I needed to do much, much eas­ier. Sud­denly I was no longer con­stricted by printed books, mi­cro­fiche, and mi­cro­film; al­most ev­ery­thing I needed was ei­ther at my fin­ger­tips or eas­ier to find. I was mes­mer­ized by it all.

As a so­cial sci­ence ref­er­ence li­brar­ian as­sis­tant I spent a lot of time teach­ing other stu­dents how to use data­bases like ProQuest UMI in or­der to per­form re­search more ef­fec­tively. I still re­mem­ber the joy of see­ing a stu­dent’s eyes light up when they dis­cov­ered that the pa­per they’d left to the last minute could be de­liv­ered on time.

But my de­light at work­ing there wasn’t just about all the con­tent and com­put­ers. I truly felt that I was part of a team of peo­ple who be­lieved it was their civic duty/mis­sion to help im­prove the lives of its mem­bers. I also learned a lot of in­valu­able skills that I use to this day in both my per­sonal and busi­ness lives.

In 2003, while now at­tend­ing grad school, my life took a new turn that to­day feels al­most like Kis­met. I was hired as a co-op stu­dent to work on, among oth­ers, a news prod­uct for the li­brary mar­ket — Li­brary PressDis­play (re­named PressReader in 2013). Be­ing a news junkie and a lover of li­braries, it was a per­fect match for me.

To­day, in my po­si­tion in the com­pany, I’m no longer in­volved in the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of our li­brary team, but I’m still proud that PressReader con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for two hon­or­able and im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions — li­braries and jour­nal­ism.

To­gether they can, and do, change the world.

The role of pub­lic li­braries in the com­mu­nity

In Oc­to­ber 2017, The Wall Street Jour­nal ran a story about pub­lic li­braries. It was re­fresh­ing to read how many these brick and mor­tar in­sti­tu­tions have trans­formed them­selves from cus­to­di­ans of con­tent to the care­tak­ers of com­mu­ni­ties.

One ex­am­ple of go­ing above and be­yond the call of civic duty was in Hen­nepin County in the Amer­i­can state of Min­nesota. In 2016 the county’s pub­lic li­brary an­swered 1.3M ques­tions from mem­bers — more than the en­tire county’s pop­u­la­tion of 1.2M. Pretty im­pres­sive!

There is no ques­tion that ref­er­ence li­brar­i­ans are the lifeblood of a pub­lic li­brary. In the words of mar­ket­ing guru, Seth Godin, they are “pro­duc­ers, concierges, con­nec­tors, teach­ers and im­pre­sar­ios.” It’s hard to ar­gue with Seth when you dis­cover all that they do. Along with lend­ing out books and pe­ri­od­i­cals, ref­er­ence li­brar­i­ans help peo­ple:

Write re­sumes and ap­ply for jobs

Find so­cial ser­vice, med­i­cal, and le­gal in­for­ma­tion and sup­port

Set up email ac­counts and pro­vide tu­to­ri­als on how to use them and other apps

Teach classes in com­puter pro­gram­ming, web­site de­sign, small busi­ness management, and even yoga

Host events with ex­perts who of­fer ad­vice on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects • Cre­ate house­hold bud­gets and dis­cover new recipes

• Re­search his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion (e.g. weather, events, news­pa­per ar­chives, and even fam­ily an­ces­tries)

• Ver­ify whether on­line news sto­ries are true or fake

• Bor­row ev­ery­thing from free mu­seum passes, ties, brief­cases, and jew­elry (for job in­ter­views) to WiFi hotspots for those who can’t af­ford WiFi at home

Some even lend out lamps that bat­tle sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der and radon-test­ing kits for peo­ple’s homes. What­ever the needs of a com­mu­nity, pub­lic li­braries are find­ing in­no­va­tive ways to fill them.

Pub­lic li­braries and jour­nal­ism — too im­por­tant to lose

Ac­cord­ing to Wayne A. Wie­gand, au­thor of Part of Our Lives: A Peo­ple's His­tory of the Amer­i­can Pub­lic Li­brary, many US in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gists in the early 1980s fore­casted the death of the pub­lic li­brary by the mil­len­nium.

A sim­i­lar pro­jec­tion was made for news­pa­pers in 2012 when fu­tur­ist, Ross Daw­son, pre­dicted that news­pa­pers in their cur­rent form (i.e. print) would be­come ex­tinct, start­ing in the US in 2017.

“I loved work­ing with li­brar­i­ans. They are a spe­cial breed of peo­ple. They feel like it’s their civic duty, their mis­sion in life to help oth­ers. And ev­ery time I’d go to a con­fer­ence or trade show I’d see how pas­sion­ate they were about seek­ing out new in­for­ma­tion, new tools, and prod­ucts to help im­prove the lives of oth­ers.”

But the end of printed news­pa­pers won’t be the end of qual­ity jour­nal­ism, just like the trans­for­ma­tion of printed li­brary re­sources into dig­i­tal as­sets won’t be the death of pub­lic li­braries. Qual­ity jour­nal­ism is the life force of main­stream me­dia and it will sur­vive with­out print in the we­bo­sphere. But what about li­braries?

There are those who ar­gue that Ama­zon should re­place pub­lic li­braries to save tax­payer money. I, for one, hope never to see that day. The value pub­lic li­brary spa­ces and li­brar­i­ans bring to com­mu­ni­ties is far too great to lose.

In terms of news­pa­pers, many printed edi­tions are still alive, al­though they may not be kick­ing for long as more and more read­ers switch to dig­i­tal.

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