Impact Magazine -

A Gale magazine written for and by public librarians

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Page 19 of 35

By Vailey Oehlke Director of Libraries, Multnomah County Library, & President, Public Library Association From the smartphone in our pocket that connects us with people and information in an instant to the ongoing threats posed by large-scale corporate data breaches, our lives are very different than they were a few short years ago. There isn't much we can predict except that more uncertainty is ahead. The public library exists in this same uncertainty. Some see this as a fundamental threat to libraries. I see it as a transformative opportunity to redefine our role of value, contribute to our communities, and change lives in a unique way. Multnomah County Library (MCL) serves with a focus on three immutable "pillars," transcending time and technological changes that define the library's unique value in this community. The pillars are: free access for all, a trusted guide for learning, and the leading advocate for reading. Using these pillars, we can inform and shape decisions based on what we know about the present and what we cannot know about the future. A multitude of new factors affect libraries today. We hear neighbors say things such as, "why do we need libraries anymore?" Our community is becoming more diverse. The effects of poverty and inequality become more evident each day. Funding challenges abound for libraries nationwide, and these emerging factors compound unstable funding even further. So, how do we take these facts and highlight and secure a position of relevance well into the 21st century and beyond? I believe that, together, we can define and demonstrate the value of public libraries to the communities we serve. Now, more than ever, it's critical for those of us in public libraries to see our work as being unified in purpose. Collectively, we can change broadly held perceptions of the library – whether rural or urban — as a quaint place to browse and borrow books into something more apt and suited to the future. The library's most vital offering is living, breathing, thinking people whose main goal is to help the patron find what she or he needs. Even Google can't replace a skilled librarian. Likewise, an algorithm on can generate purchase suggestions, but that technology, however advanced, can never replace a person, and the messy, rich, iterative, complex experience that defines human interaction. So, at MCL, we're putting our focus and our resources into bold new approaches that emphasize human interaction such as the My Librarian project. My Librarian, funded by a grant by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, is a Web-based portal to 17 personal librarians who help patrons discover their next great read. Readers can browse them in a menu, see their faces, learn about geeky areas of interest, see what they're reading, and select a "personal librarian" for tailored reading recommendations in person or via phone, email, chat or text, again and again. We're also investing in new ways to envision what we do. We're taking a hard and honest look at our library's value in this information-rich landscape, with librarians leading us in an initiative called Information Services 21. This effort highlights actions we can take to become a creative partner to patrons; champion access for those who are marginalized and shut out; and create organizational capacity for change and adaptability while reimagining our physical and virtual spaces with people at the center. We continue to allocate resources to serve our community's increasingly diverse needs. We pay close attention to use of e-books, streaming media, and other electronic resources and prioritize those to deliver what our patrons want. We keep our eyes on demographic measures of how our community is changing, and we adapt and evolve. Our institution has flourished in a beautiful symbiotic partnership with the community we serve. But this partnership hasn't materialized by accident; it's been a deliberate effort over many generations led by a long line of library directors, community members, and library staff who have cemented the library's place in the community. As we move boldly into the future, we will continue to listen to – and learn from – our community members, understand changing needs, and remain true to our pillars. Moving Boldly into the Future in a Time of Change 18 Gale IMPACT SPRING/SUMMER 2015 "The library's most vital offering is living, breathing, thinking people whose main goal is to help the patron find what she or he needs. Even Google can't replace a skilled librarian." Read more from Vailey and download a webinar where she discusses these issues and more at

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