“The Daily Circuit” is a mid-morning show on Minnesota Public Radio. One of the topics for discussion on Monday was “the future of libraries.” Because I was in a meeting while this segment of the show aired, I didn’t have a chance to hear the full discussion; I tuned in for the last few minutes; more on that in a moment. (The full segment is available at the site for your listening pleasure.) But this was not the only item that crossed my radar this week. Another story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune focused on security issues and the homeless at the main downtown library. And the ALA’s "American Libraries Direct" featured two articles about authors’ views of libraries and two more articles about publishers suing bloggers for libel because those blogger-librarians were critical of those publishers. It seems like there is no lack of opportunity to engage in discussions about the future of libraries.
I don’t have any comments to make (at the moment) on the issues of library security, the presence of the homeless in libraries, a blogger’s right to express themselves, or a publisher’s right to seek a legal remedy for allegedly damaging comments. But I did have a comment to make on “The Daily Circuit” and made it on their web site. My comment was directed to the final observation made by one of the guests on the show, James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. Tracy was on a riff that libraries as physical spaces are becoming less and less necessary; he was all about digital. To quote from him (as I listened to the whole segment online): “I’m saying their necessity is increasingly attenuated.” Tracy’s foil in this discussion was Kit Hadley, director of the St. Paul Public Library system. One of her comments spoke to the need for both space and access to digital materials: “It is in everyone’s interest that there be equitable access to the tools of learning and engagement. And right now that is only happening because of public libraries.” At the end of the segment, when Tracy made the observation—based on a conversation he had with the chancellor of Oxford University—that 90% of universities (and, I assume, their libraries) will be eliminated in the next half century, I thought he was talking through his hat. I said as much in my comment. Most of the listener comments on the air (and on the web site) seemed directed to the need for the library as a physical space, as a place for those who—for whatever reason—cannot get access to these materials and tools in their home or other spaces, and as a space that reflects—and is part of—a community. Tracy disagreed with Hadley on the access issue—“I think a lot of this is very 'presentist'”—and thought that the issue of a “digital divide” was going to disappear in ten or twenty years (which Hadley also disagreed with).
All of this—leaving Tracy’s name dropping of the Oxford chancellor aside—presents me with quite a bit to think about as I prepare for the Minnesota Library Association’s “Legislative Day” in early March. The last time I actively engaged in an on-site lobbying effort for libraries was as part of an ALA effort decades ago. I’ve kept up letter writing and phone calls, but now I need some “face time.” I’m long overdue to get back into the game with some face-to-face conversations with legislators on library issues. The MLA legislative committee has been hard at work developing a platform statement. This is now in my e-mail in-box waiting review. A briefing will also be held the evening before we make our way through the corridors of power. I’m looking forward to the opportunity and hope you take every chance to lobby for libraries. The landscape may be changing, but we need to assure that all have access to tools and materials that will improve individual lives, create opportunities for education and training, and build stronger communities.