When you think of a librarian, do you think “Designer?” “Creator?” Or employ descriptors such as “socially engaged,” “community leader,” “economic enhancement?” These are not typically words or ideas we associate with librarians or librarianship. But this was common parlance at the recent Libraries 2025 Symposium, part of the Future Plans component of the $15 million dollar investment in public libraries from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
This was a comfortable event, well planned and executed – kudos to the planners: Ontario Library Service – North and also to the Fairmont Royal York, as the day was carried off without a hitch. Excellent food; snacks, coffee, and refreshments were all well timed and enjoyed in a beautiful setting. If you missed it, pick the brains of a colleague as a lot of interesting ideas and discussion arose from the day.
Valerie Pringle, the moderator, was awesome. Down to earth, funny, well prepared – she did her homework and did it well. With an easy manner and quick wit she kept all the speakers and panelists on time and in line. She was so fantastic because she was engaged and that was contagious. She has the knack of connecting with her audience and was also able to connect us to one another.
It was a feel good sort of day; lots of camaraderie, idea generation, discussion, & connecting with colleagues. It was neat sitting in a room knowing that almost everyone there was a CEO, a manager, library leader or those deeply tied to the library and its future. That in itself was totally cool – there was a really nice vibe as a result. The audience polls were very fun with interesting results. A highlight for me was hearing panelist, Sherry Lawson, on the topic of community: a community plan is dreaming the future. Libraries 2025 was just that – our library community dreaming our future together.
Another highlight was the recognition that this library dialogue fits very nicely into other community and organizational paradigms such as Hildy Gottleib’s Creating the Future or Liberating Structures. We’re proving the library is trend savvy. The buzz words/ideas were things like:
|collaborative leadership||leading from the front lines|
|community led||failure is okay|
|getting out from behind the desk||outreach/programming|
|getting back behind the desk (!)||disruption|
|opening space up||creating quiet space|
|knowing your vision||staying true to the vision|
|community hub/centre||design thinking|
All these suggestions were presented as new.
But, I’ll leave you with this: we often talk about these “new” ideas – the vocabulary changes, but often the ideas behind the words are not actually new. They’ve been swirling around us for years.
We seem to be good at pointing out library innovation and we delight in talking about new ideas and new directions, but is there a gap between what we talk about and what we actually do? Some of us are early adopters, some spot a trend and lead the way, others wait it out until the new idea fades and the tried and true shines forth again or hey, some wait long enough that the innovative becomes the tried and true!
The truth is, ideas come and go. Despite how much I enjoyed the day, I didn’t really hear anything truly earth shattering. But I did make one observation I’ll share with you: we don’t seem to know that we already are all we aspire to be!What we don’t seem to notice about ourselves is that libraries have always been resilient and adaptable – we rise to the challenge(s), we know how to design think by necessity, we strive to stay abreast of the times using innovative tools and resources, we know how to tell our stories and I firmly believe that we all nurture our staff to be the best they can be. What is new (and uncelebrated) is that librarians and libraries are the quintessential innovators and early adaptors – we are the original creators, designers and social advocates.
This isn’t to say that we can sit back on our laurels, and congratulate ourselves on a job well done, but maybe we can reframe the conversation, from how we go about leading the change to recognizing how we are the change. Let’s trust that, make that our starting point next time and see what comes from it.