Large Turnout at Discussion of The Future of Public Libraries

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A large crowd filled the room at the NCRC to hear about and comment on the future of public libraries at the meeting sponsored by the Friends and Foundation of the Northfield Public Library and the League of Women Voters of Northfield/Cannon Falls. Jake Odland and Janos McGhie, two members of Minnesota Library Futures Initiative (http://sites.google.com/site/mnlfi2025/) spoke about the first phase of their work.

The Initiative is a group of library professionals born from 1975-1985 who will be library leaders in 2025. They were charged with exploring“How do the current and projected political, economic and social environments affect the delivery of library service in Minnesota?”  The speakers noted that the demographic picture is an inverted pyramid, with graying population at the top and a smaller work force at the bottom.  Libraries are anchors of the community, often serving as a first responder for the unemployed.  In Minnesota, libraries are working together regionally, creating efficiencies. Unknowns like future technological developments and whether books will be eclipsed make planning challenging.  Even so, libraries will be places to learn and to come to for guidance and for authoritative information. In the second phase, the Initiative wants to engage the wider community, including the group tonight.

Jack Polling of MS&R Architects said that great libraries are built around consensus with stakeholder involvement, open dialogue and debate.  “You can’t build too much people space,” he said to achieve interaction between people and with technology.  The way the library can stay vital in a time of change is with great services and access to information.  The key question is whether the library will lead the change, or whether change will be thrust upon it.  "This requires thinking farther ahead than you’re comfortable thinking."

Northfield Public Library Director Lynne Young traced the changes from 1985 when the most recent expansion was completed, but reminded people that the mission has not changed. “What has changed is what the resources are, what form they will be and how they will be organized.”  Space and funding limitations affect how the library can meet current demands in the children’s area, staff workspace, computers and public programs. Young noted, however, fortunately, because Minnesota has a state of the art in electronic links, Northfield has access to many print and electronic resources.

Friends Board member Margit Johnson invited the audience to brainstorm their ideas for our library in small groups.  In the large group discussion which followed, parking needs, decentralization of services, the need for a curatorial function, and the role of the library in fostering digital literacy were among the issues raised as needing further discussion. One person asked how the hundred people in the room could move the library up the ladder of priority with the city?

There will be a bus tour of the Roseville and Stillwater libraries on April 14. There is space available on the bus for the tour. If interested contact Margit Johnson: margit@usfamily.net


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