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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

why this book

I am passionately in love with the idea and practice of the Library. I know public libraries best, but love (and have spent many hours in) school and academic libraries, too. I try to pay attention to my colleagues and their successes and challenges.

In that process, I have learned that we all share one big challenge: the American culture’s generation’s-long devaluing, even deliberate dismantling, of our shared public infrastructure.

The evidence is clear. We have become a nation not of citizens, but of consumers. Our meaning, our merit, is measured now not by what we believe or build. We are judged by what we buy.

Ideas matter. In fact, just a few words can make “frames” (see the works of George Lakoff) so powerful that they govern almost every aspect of our lives. The Declaration of Independence is one example: “All men are created equal.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Here’s another: “tax burden.”

Let me stake out my ground up front. Libraries generally, public libraries specifically, are an almost incalculably powerful, incomparably cost-effective tool to improve lives, to build better communities. 

Here’s the mystery: even the people who utterly depend on us, even the people who fund us, even the people charged to govern us, are all too-often incomprehensibly opposed to precisely the services that most benefit them.

My book is about two things.

  • First, how to lead and manage public institutions to achieve excellence.

  • Second, how to lay the ground for a shift in public awareness. One generation (Baby Boomers) broke the social contract. The next generation (Millennials) will lift us up, reclaim our place in the civic mind. I hope they will, anyhow. And this book is designed to help them.

1 comment:

Rick Ashton said...

Beginning in the 1980s, some of the most active, progressive public libraries focused on calling the people we serve "customers" rather than "patrons." The purpose of this was to emphasize our service mission and our service performance, modeled largely on the excellent service delivered by Nordstrom and other for-profit exemplars. This was and still is, to some degree, a rare thing for a government agency to promote. I tried to do this by telling my staff that a patron is someone who writes you a large check, not someone you helped with a reference question. The unintended consequence of the customer-service theme has been that the people we serve have developed ever more customer-like expectations and lost track of other necessary elements of the relationship, such as cooperation, ownership, and support. The growing use of the term "member" may help to address this problem in our collective consciousness. Attempts at on-line community building may have some effect with younger populations too.