What's the Trade-Off?

November 2015

A recent article appearing in the New York Times focused on what is described as the changing world of libraries. Among other things, it stated: “the crunch pushed libraries to look locally to prove their value,” said R. David Lankes, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. The article goes on to describe how many libraries, to accomplish this goal, have turned to activities totally unrelated to access to information, search for knowledge or other activities traditionally associated with libraries. Instead, they are offering a new service with activities as “checking out tools, kitchen items, musical instruments telescopes and sewing machines. These alternate services have prompted new names for such as “library of Things” and the “Stuff-brary.” I was driven to ponder this announcement, particularly the writer’s phrase – “to prove their value.”

While downward economic trends are cited for this dramatic shift in service, the most compelling argument for this transition is captured in the idea that “the way you best serve your community is to look like them.” This latter notion has a certain appeal to those of us in the library world where no motivation is stronger than the desire to be relevant.

Focusing for a moment on our community here in Mathews, were we to become a library of things, what would we offer? First and foremost, popularity would probably hinge on making available such items as fishing rods and tackle, paddles and perhaps even crab pots. Moving to the land-based population, weed whackers, saws and hammers and plumbing tools would likely be a hit. We would not want to neglect those who enjoy gardening as well as the cooks and bakers in the community. Children would probably become quite excited at the opportunity to check out American Girl dolls, Frisbees or other entertaining items.

While much of the above is written tongue-in-cheek, it is not meant to diminish the fact there is a need for libraries to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, a change that reaches even to our community. Thus, the Mathews Memorial Library takes seriously this challenge. To date, our focus is on becoming, especially for youth and teens, a hands-on creative center, or what is more popularly known as, a “maker space.” We envision this as a space where patrons can work singularly or in groups to compose music, learn and experiment with photography, write stories and perhaps even learn to knit or other similar handcrafts. We are excited about the possibilities a maker space can offer our patrons. However, we do not envision, as explained by a Berkeley, California, librarian….“when the toilet is clogged, people come here!”