I Just Don’t Know If It’s Going To Work Out

Image by Ellen Forsyth via a Creative Commons License

Athletes are super lucky. If they go into professional sports, they can play 10-20 years, retire, and try another career. Or heck, they can just retire and do nothing. I wish librarians had that option.

I want to retire from librarianship but I can’t at this moment so I won’t. I’m tired of endlessly debating and wondering “WHAT IS A LIBRARY IN THE 21ST CENTURY?” I’m tired of the funding battles, the constant “we need to prove our worth” crusade, and the librarian stereotype. I’m just really, really tired.

I know there are a lot of libraries out there doing pretty good work. I am happy that those libraries exist! However, for every library that does pretty good work are another 100 or so doing average to below average work. It’s like the force is out of balance like OMG woah. We’re not all on the same page and it is tiring and frustrating.

It was at this point in the past that I would ask the question “Well how can we all get on the same page?” but you know what I’m going to do now? I’m not going to ask that. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if we wanna beat this and truly evolve we’ve gotta stop calling this thing a library. We need to think of it in another way. We don’t need to focus most of our energy on being a place that lends out stuff. We need to focus most of energy on being a place that is a destination or a shared experience. You can easily say “well a library has always been about that” and I agree. But try telling that to the average every library user non-librarian type person. They still see, and will continue to see, a library as a place where you get stuff. Same thing with our funding agencies.

So how do we break away from the past and truly evolve? I’d like to see a “library” break away and become a place that focuses most of our energy on being the destination and shared experience center. It shouldn’t be called a library. It should be called something else. I don’t know what that something else is. I do know that if it is called a “library” we’ll all be reading a Library Journal-esque piece like this and then spending our nights endlessly debating it on the Library Facebook Group of the Moment. And we don’t want to do that because we have other things to do that are a lot more fun.


If we continue our current ways,  I just don’t know if it’s going to work out. Let’s look at what we do, blow it all up, and start over! EVOLUTION!

(image by Ellen Forsyth, found here https://goo.gl/6DwWhk)


  1. Every time I see an article like that my heart clenches in irritation, I roll my eyes, and turn the page/keep scrolling/close the tab.
    For me, the “library” means something different in every single community. I feel like these conversations that happen online and nationally and in magazines don’t address that well enough. In my 3 branch system, the library is a different kind of place in each of the 3 communities. We don’t try to offer the same kinds of services or programs or spaces anymore – if we did we would be failing our patrons and our communities.
    So the question, “What does a library mean?” is something that everyone has to answer, I think. But at a national level, it can be answered like this: “What does YOUR library mean?” And I don’t think we’re thinking enough about that within our own libraries.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you’re so tired and worn out! Wish it wasn’t like that, and I understand that you have other places you want to devote your energy. It’s hard to be pulled in so many directions at once when you’ve only got so much to give…

  2. Yes to all of this. I do think a lot of public libraries are (and have been) breaking out of the stereotype in terms of what they actually provide (well-equipped creative spaces, serious job training course offerings, civic functions and true partnership with other agencies serving the public, etc), so I think the profession is doing a decent job of evolving — but a poor job of accurately naming/representing all of this, and of marketing and communicating all of this to the public. I’ve worked for one library system that had a marketing manager, but my guess is that aside from the big metropolitan library systems, this role is not prioritized and is just another expected duty of the director. Funding is a complicated mess, and I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I’m willing to think and work on it with like-minded people. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Justin.

  3. “I’ve worked for one library system that had a marketing manager, but my guess is that aside from the big metropolitan library systems, this role is not prioritized and is just another expected duty of the director.”

    Yup. I think smaller libraries do try, but you know what? It’s a lot of work! I would love to have a marketing manager. It just won’t work out where I am right now.

    “Funding is a complicated mess, and I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I’m willing to think and work on it with like-minded people.”

    Yes. Working with people that want to work on it and achieve similar goals is good. But most times there is just no conversation to be had with the political systems in power. They don’t see the public library as something that is needed anymore. Perhaps we’re kind of seen as a threat to them? Who knows.

  4. Justin, I just had a birthday too (Dec. 16). Just turned 72 (years young). My wife Carole and I are both retired school librarians and school library administrators.
    We’ve seen, and survived a lot of fads in the library world, including the trend a few years ago toward a “bookless” library, all digital don’t you know. We were also battered by the “No Child Left Behind” engendered drill, kill, and test’em prescription for schools that seemed to leave very little time for teachers to bring children to the library. What a sad mistake.

    In our retirement we specialize in creating research websites for students. Some people refer to them as the “topias”. You may have heard of them (or not): infotopia.info & kidtopia.info.

    The last research portal we have created is http://www.infotrek.info . Here is how we describe it:

    Infotrek is a free, multi-disciplinary search engine for academic internet resources recommended for high school students. Created by Dr. Michael Bell, former Chair of the Texas Association of School Librarians, and Carole Bell, retired teacher and library administrator, Infotrek is a Google custom search engine that includes ONLY resources recommended by teachers, librarians, and educational and library consortia. Every search query automatically includes Google Safe Search (strict). Search art, social sciences, social issues, social problems, history, biography, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, science, math, chemistry, biology, dictionaries, and much more.

    Many subject pages offer suggested keywords to help narrow the search, as well as selected suggested website links to point the user in the right direction. Infotrek also includes a set of tools such as a dictionary, spell check, calculator, and a citation tool. There is also a text area on most pages where the user may take notes, and then e-mail the notes to their e-mail account.

    Justin, any suggestions you could give regarding our research portals would be greatly appreciated. I feel Carole and I could benefit greatly from your different point of view.

    Michael and Carole Bell

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