By: Clark Swanson
Over the past four weeks, I have visited nearly 100 libraries throughout the United States to conduct observational studies for clients. I describe the last set as being similar to the 737’s in the Southwest Airlines fleet—they take a pounding every day.
The 6:00 AM flight this morning gave me a few minutes to think about this a bit further. My thoughts were placed in context by something Thomas Friedman wrote in his most recent column in The New York Times:
America today is poised for a great renewal. Our newfound natural gas bounty can give us long-term access to cheap, cleaner energy and, combined with advances in robotics and software, is already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America. Web-enabled cellphones and tablets are creating vast new possibilities to bring high-quality, low-cost education to every community college and public school so people can afford to acquire the skills to learn 21st-century jobs. Cloud computing is giving anyone with a creative spark cheap, powerful tools to start a company with very little money. And dramatically low interest rates mean we can borrow to build new infrastructure — and make money.
It occurred to me that all of these people I observed over the past four weeks were using their libraries as the conduit for their renewal. Whether it was learning English, studying for a test, or using broadband to access cloud services, the library was a tool they employed to leverage their American Dream, regardless of its form.
We sometimes get caught up in all of the data, trying to figure out what is circulating, who is circulating it, if circulation is up or down, and so on to make decisions, that we forget the premise of why people use libraries. It is important then, I think, to focus intently on this context. It seems to me that the use of a library is a technology in its classic sense – a tool that enables one to generate value more efficiently.
The more I see, the better I begin to understand Andrew Carnegie’s dream of free libraries for the American public. They are more than a community resource—they serve to bring people closer to living their American Dream much like Carnegie himself.
©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012