Let’s Talk: Connecting to our Customers and Providing Value

I’m headed to Houston to present at the Texas Library Association. I’m co-presenting “Designing the Digital Branch: It’s Everyone’s Job” with David Lee King. Presenting with my colleague David is always fun and inspiring. We talk about a model for creating and maintaining a library’s digital presence where everyone has a role to play and has ownership of what is presented to the community and the web world.

As the CEO, I’m always looking for value – value to our customers and community, the return on investment of library resources, and the value to staff as an essential tool for providing service and as a way to have conversations with customers, colleagues and the wider world of readers and library users.

I’m also presenting “21st Century Librarian.” What does the future hold for libraries and what should we do right now to ensure a successful future? It may sound simple, but for libraries to be relevant going forward in the 21st century, our profession must develop and implement the knowledge, skills and practices to be 21st century librarians. What we do is important. Why we do it is even more important.

So we’re always focused on our core values and our mission.

The role of public libraries has changed quite a lot in the past 50 years. Our role in society is a pretty important one. Fundamentally, we provide open access to stories and information in all forms—books, ebooks, film, music, art— in whatever form is most relevant to the person seeking it. Our goal is to ensure that anyone in our community who visits the library finds something that speaks to him or her. That openness and accessibility is essential in a democracy.

But increasingly, it has become more than that. Libraries are also the places where people can realize their dreams and aspirations and they can do it for themselves, freely and independently.

You know the song by Aretha Franklin and Annie Lenox, “Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves?” That’s how I think of the opportunities libraries should be offering – options for people to learn and do for themselves. You’ll notice I didn’t say by themselves. We’re always here to help, but having the freedom to decide what they will experience and learn, how they will do that, who they will do that with and what they will do with that newly acquired knowledge and skill should be a fundamental right for any public library user.

For instance, here is our mission.

Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library: Your place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.

The challenge for librarians is to live our enduring values while changing the ways and means we use to provide value to the people who need us. It must be about the customer, the user, the patron, the library member… whatever we call the people who use and value libraries.

So, how do we do that?

To see what your library is doing to fulfill its unique role in building community and serving its citizens, take a look at our strategic work plans for 2012-2013. And we’re always looking for good ideas and feedback. Remember, this is your place – for stories, information and connection.

What do you think a 21st century library (and librarian) should be? Post your ideas here or send me a message at gmillsap@tscpl.org.