"Preserve Our Dreams": Council to Hear From Syracuse Prof About the Future of Libraries

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Via.
If nothing else, R. David Lankes's presentation will be the most entertaining and enlightening council briefing presented this year.
Only yesterday I watched as my son's school's librarian begged the Dallas ISD school board to reinstate 42 librarians likely to be let go next school year. Trustees who agreed were told: Fine, but we'll have to fire 42 teachers to make room. Trustees who disagreed insisted: Why do we even need librarians when we have computers? Some also said, look, isn't it enough that the library's doors remain open, even if there's no warm body to keep the books company?

On top of that, year after year after year, dollars are lifted from the Dallas Public Library System's budget. Librarians are laid off, materials are reduced, hours of operation are cut back. Again, the refrain from the peanut gallery remains a constant: To the Google Machine!

It was surprising, then, to sneak a peek at Monday's Quality of Life Committee agenda and find that from noon to 12:45 p.m., R. David Lankes, a professor in Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, will give a presentation to the council called "Dallas and the Opportunities of a New Librarianship." This is no small deal: Lankes is the author of the just-published -- and well received -- Atlas of New Librarianship, for which there is a companion website in which it's easy to get lost and a series of accompanying videos. Lankes, who travels the world speaking on the subject, imagines a future in which libraries are very much part of everyday life, but only if there are wholesale changes made between now and then.

I called the engaging Lankes this afternoon to sneak preview his presentation, and to find out how he came to be asked to speak at City Hall, where quality-of-life briefings are usually glum, pedestrian affairs. Our Q&A in advance of his talk follows.

I must admit: I was stunned to see you headlining an agenda that includes code compliance and free-wheeling shopping carts. How the heck did that happen?

Corinne Hill, the interim director of libraries, had invited me down for a couple of things recently. Since she's come in she's been looking around, figuring directions, looking ahead. The Friends of the Dallas Library had also invited me to come down and talk about the future of the library, and we had a good time, and I believe it was the Friends and Corrine who said this would be a useful message to bring to the council.

When did Corrine bring you here?

December. Then I was back doing meetings in the Dallas area at the end of April, doing a "big think" around libraries, ideas and trends. When I look in Dallas there are some opportunities, but we can't do business as usual fiscally and because the environment isn't the same. I see a lot of receptivity from Friends and Dallas Public Library, and we'll see it council's receptive to new ways to think about libraries and service.

I've heard this time after time in recent months, as folks go 'round and 'round about the need for libraries: Let the computer do it. It was said only yesterday at a DISD board meeting. I assume you hear that all the time.

All the time. And we'll have to see what comes out of my mouth on Monday, but the image of libraries is one we have learned. A lot of that image was put in place in the 1950s -- a place with a lot of books. But before that books were expensive, and before that, usually in downtowns, you'd have huge reading rooms more than anything else -- large, special collections. The neighborhood library or school library as a place to get lots of books is a relatively new invention.

People talk about Google replacing libraries, but nobody ever went to a library to find the number of a pizza joint. That's ridiculous. And technology allows access to ready reference; for factual questions we don't need researchers. What we do need librarians to do is answer: How does it makes sense? In journalism, it'd be great if we had as many fact-checkers as we used to. Technology allows us to do it, but to makes sense of the news, to find out what the story is as opposed to where it showed up online, we need a librarian for that.

When I was in Dallas two months ago, they said, "We want to be remembered as more than a place where people get shot." So what does Dallas want to be remembered for? Well, right now it's basketball. [He laughs.] But what's important? They had a real estate developer at one of the meetings who said he wants libraries to be a part of reinventing neighborhoods. He said, "We want a fourth space -- a place where you work, a place where you're alone, a place where you shop, and a place where you come together as a community and think about what the community's about. And it's not just four walls and a ceiling.

A library is a place where we're having a conversation, which more often than not goes something like, 'How can I be better me and be part of a better society?' That's why Andrew Carnegie built libraries 100 years ago in cities like Dallas: He wanted an informed citizenry. And that's what we're getting back to.

There seems to be this belief that we no longer need librarians, especially at the school level, as I learned yesterday. One of the trustees, a new one, said he needs to see the data proving their importance before he can support their reinstatement to the budget. And we see time and again that when cities need to cut budgets, one of the first places they turn is to the libraries.


My message to anyone who will hear me is: We desperately need libraries, but we don't need them as they were in the past 20 years. I think library budgets should go up immensely, but not if we do things as we do them now. School libraries are one of the first documented points of academic success. There's just so much data and evidence that talks about test scores going up when you have a school librarian, not just a library. They're educators, they're teachers, and they're not stuck in this straitjacketed curriculum. They let kids explore what they want to know. Imagine if the entire community is allowed to be that agile -- if they can make decisions based on better information.

Even things like economic development are based on an informed society. We need police to keep us civil, we need firemen to keep us safe, we need parks to keep us connected, and we need libraries as places to preserve our dreams. And that's different than saying we need big buildings with long hours for people to go and get a lot of books. I wouldn't bite on that either.

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Guest
Guest

BTW, the City showed what it thinks of libraries and what they bring to the citizens of Dallas: the Council blew off Lankes' Monday presentation in favor of greeting the Mavs. Thanks for your story, Mr. Wilonsky. At least part of his message was heard.

Gradstudent11
Gradstudent11

Our librarian does nothing at our campus but discourage kids from coming or asking questions.  I would gladly see them get rid of ours.

GAA
GAA

Libraries are a wonderful tool for people that utilize them.  The information is there.  Open a book and learn something new.

EastDallasResident
EastDallasResident

At the college level our librarians are confronting an incredible wave of students who are poorly prepared by DISD.  This in an age when going to college for any kind of career is important.  The Dallas Community Colleges offer the lowest cost route and here librarians are the safety net - doing classes and "over the shoulder" help for times when students can't find a faculty member to explain an assignment, show them how to avoid plagiarism, help them distinguish authoritative information from hearsay, figure out how to outline and cite, and explain how to do presentations in class.  Doing away with with librarians is short-circuiting education, just as doing away with faculty is short-sighted.

Librarian Army
Librarian Army

The thought of needing police "to keep us civil" makes me sick to my stomach.  That is surely a mispoken sentiment.

zeldavaldez
zeldavaldez

Sometimes there are new introductions of a product to that area which also can bring high value coupons through the "Printapons" or printable coupons

Stan
Stan

Public libraries are about the only place where you can access information for free.   Not everyone has a computer and even if they do they don't always understand how to use the computer.    Librarians can help you access reliable information since a lot of material on the Internet is junk.   

They help folks every day apply for a job since most job applications are online.   They help children develop a love of reading.   If you don't develop that love, you won't do as well in school.  They are the guides to the vast world of information in a library and online.    Libraries are essential part of our community.   You can access the Dallas Public Library 24 hours a day online and download ebooks, renew or order new materials.   It one of the best services offered by the city of Dallas.

heyheymama
heyheymama

Must concur with Librarian Army.  My 9 yr old got his library card today and is wide-eyed that he can check out "infinity books for free," as he puts it.  I corrected him, reminding him about our property and sales taxes.  We've had this discussion before with the little guy.  Now to concur with Stan: the DPL is one of the best services funded by our tax dollars.

Librarian Army
Librarian Army

Stan,

THAT ACCESS IS NOT FREE!  Someone pays for it.  Someone pays a lot for it.  Now, is it worth it?  That's a different question, but please don't continue the lie that libraries are free information centers.  They are socialized entertainment centers with some educational qualities.

Guest
Guest

When she was in her 50s, my mother became a college librarian. I thought that must be a pretty cushy job, not much to do except point to whatever section a kid wants a book from, but she insists that she does lots of stuff. When she starts talking about specifics, though, I zone out. So who knows?

heyheymama
heyheymama

As a research assistant in engineering school, one of my more mundane jobs was to go to the library and check out material related to my prof's R&D project: esoteric books & journal articles, some published in foreign languages.  At first, I tried to pull all the materials myself.  Why?  Because in elem/middle/high school, the librarian's job was to teach us to use the card catalog. 

When I finally approached an engineering school librarian for help, she insisted on taking the list, found every available material in a flash, then taught me about the miracle that is InterLibrary Loan and proceeded to place the requests.

That's when I learned that librarians are put on this earth to serve us and they are thrilled to do so. 

In the real world of public, university, medical, law, & corporate libraries, they pull materials for you.  They will suggest other materials, much like the Nordstrom's shoe salesman that always returns from the backroom with more selections than the one you requested.  To be able to make those suggestions, librarians have to be knowledgeable about the subjects.  They are not minimum wage cashiers, checking out books to you like so much lettuce.

Guest
Guest

I figured that since the job required her to go and get another masters degree that there must be something to it.

(Actually, right now, I know she's helping sort and catalog all the Mike Huckabee papers that were donated to her college at least part of the time. As a liberal Democrat, she's enjoying it more than I thought she would.)

heyheymama
heyheymama

School librarians are one of the few educators that see our childrendevelop over many years, as opposed to the grade-level teachers, through whose classrooms our children pass like an assembly line, 9 months at a time.  In a nutshell - school librarians know your child.

I remember myson's school librarian at DeGolyer Elementary, now retired.  Shesteered him towards wonderful books, encouraged him in exploringGreek mythology and even told me to buy Diary of A Wimpy Kid at theScholastic Book Sale because she appreciated his sense of humor.  She knew his sensitive side, advising me that the later Harry Potters were too dark and would have to wait until he was older.  I could always tell her what he was reading at home and she'd have a suggestion for a new book.  I told her she had one of the best jobs in the whole school because she watched the children grow up year after year.

Kommon sense
Kommon sense

Though I visited school libraries and public libraries at an early age, I have never had any sort of life-changing interaction with a librarian.I know in some older apartment complexes they have begun adding a computer lab of sorts staffed by a tutor in order to make the them attractive to parents of children. I would like the city to take that idea a step further and construct a major children's library/media lab with possibly a theater space in an apartment-heavy area like Five Points. Just checked...and found the city bought an old apartment complex at 8317 Park Lane last year for over $3 million with the intention of building a library there. They paid the 71 tenants $990,000 to move. They then tore the eyesore down. But nothing is happening because they don't have the money to build the library. Given that, seems like it would have been smarter (cheaper) to just let the tenants' leases expire.This location is across Park Lane from the Sam's Club that will soon close. IMO, they should have sought a location more in the middle of the many apartments in the area.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Same old story-we have got to spend money on all these other items (like administrative functions, suspenstion bridges, yet another toll road study to try to get that dead dog to move, a tax payer hotel, etc) but no we can't do libraries because that would interfere with our plans that we cooked up amongst ourselves behind closed doors.   I do not trust any local government due to all the scandals and issues that CONSTATNLTY appeared in the news year after year after year.

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