Reflections from my Visit to Kansas City to Hear Molly Raphael

I had the opportunity to hear American Library Association president Molly Raphael speak at the Missouri Library Association conference last week. She presented at the main library of the Kansas City Public Library, a beautiful downtown facility that does its community and its director Crosby Kemper and staff very proud.

Molly’s talk was inspirational and grounded in reality. She spoke from the heart about how essential libraries are to learning and life. She encouraged us to read ALA’s Office of Technology Policy’s brief, Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Library (.pdf) by Roger Levien. Levien says that public libraries in particular must operate strategically to survive and thrive in the 2000s. He visualizes each of these dimensions as being a continuum in which we have to decide where our library should position itself. They are:

  • physical to virtual libraries
  • individual to community libraries
  • collection to creation libraries
  • portal to archive libraries

I find Mr. Levien’s metaphor a useful tool in thinking and having strategic conversations about how my library and libraries generally must evolve to meet and even better, anticipate, the wants and needs of library users. I’ll be looking at our strategic plan, The Next Decade, through this lens as we develop our work plan for 2012 and the next few years.

As I look at our mission and vision and the approach we are taking to the deployment of services, collections and programs, I remain convinced that two key issues will guide us over the next decade.

  1. Librarians must become assertive in their approach to assisting people in finding, assessing and using the best information and stories. We won’t wait to be asked. And that means that at any given time, more of our staff members will be working outside the library’s physical facility as consultants and community liaisons.
  2. We won’t do anything as the Lone Ranger anymore. Partnerships and collaboration are the order of the day for two key reasons. One is that some of us are smarter than one of us – it’s that group think, wisdom of crowds phenomenon – it really works. The other is that no one has the resources to do great things by themselves. Our capacity for strategic thinking and action will grow and our libraries and communities will benefit. This will require a dramatic change in how we define our work and how we organize ourselves to get it done.

I love it when someone challenges me to think and guides me to a resource that wasn’t on my radar. Isn’t that the essence of librarianship? My thanks to Molly for her leadership. I think we’re lucky to have her as the ALA president.