What I learned from PLA

I just got back from spending three days at the Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Philadelphia. I went to four workshops a day plus author talks at lunch – phew!  A lot to process…

I thought the best workshop that I attended was Transforming Public Libraries from Institutions of the Industrial Age to Change Agents for the Networked Society, presented by Rolf Hapel who discussed the new public library being built in Aarhus, Denmark. 

The key things he said that resonated with me:
1)  There is an increasing demand for individualization of services to the public.
I’ve been thinking for some time that even as micro-marketing (marketing to smaller, more defined groups) is becoming the marketing method of choice in the business world that librarians are also going to have to start providing more niche-targeted services.  This means that “success” will no longer be defined by the quantity of people who use a library service.  Rather, that service will be successful if we succeed in meeting the needs of those who use it, regardless of their number.

2)  Public libraries need to move from transactional to relational.  I think most of us “get” this concept.  Librarians are no longer just a cog in the wheel of getting books from the library into the patrons’ hands.  To stay relevant we have to get to know (at a meaningful level) who library users are and what they want from us.  That requires a relationship.

3)  Users are more self-reliant and don’t have time to fuss around.  We have to streamline, simplify and get rid of complexity.  We make things too hard.  We worry too much about process and procedure.  We need to worry more about making things easy to use.

4)  Hapel talked about “non-committal, random meeting spaces”…one of the best articulations I’ve run into of a “third place”.  The day after the librarians at Curtis returned from PLA they started experimenting with an informal, outdoor cafe – just by putting tables and chairs together outside the library in a logical place…a perfect way of enabling “non-committal, random meetings” – otherwise known as “community”.  It was their idea and it was perfect…ever since (during this unusually beautiful Maine spring) we’ve had folks coming and going, sitting and chatting.

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