Yesterday, I stopped by the Urban Libraries Council (click this entry title for their website) to meet the extraordinarily bright staff, and visit with my good friend Rick Ashton. ULC is a kind of public library think tank -- focusing on the topics and strategies that will ensure vital libraries.
Rick has a fiercely probing and fearless mind, and I always learn something from him. During his tenure as Denver's City Librarian, Rick focused on the foundation: customer service within the building. Some libraries are still grappling with that.
But what's next? I think there are three core trends: the first is RFID-based self-check; the second is savvy merchandising of library materials; and the third is what I call answering the community reference question -- a repurposing of our professional skills to catalog the community, to not only have a seat at the table, but to help our communities solve problems, improve lives.
Each of those is a multi-year process, requiring a lot of deep retooling. It's been 18 months for RFID at Douglas County Libraries, and we still haven't ironed it all out. (On the other hand, the advantages are so overwhelming, and it has been so well-received by the public, that the discomforts are well worth it.)
Effective merchandising combines the advantages of cooperative purchasing with retail psychology. Result: people use the library more.
But this last one -- redefining the reference desk as the librarian, not a location in a building -- is truly transformative.
Staying on top of these strategies is not just a cool thing for administrators to dink around with. They just might be essential to our survival.