One of the highlights of my whole CLA/CLSA experience was sitting in a bar with Stephen Abram and Sandra Hirsh on Friday night. We had an amazing conversation about where libraries where going, what we should be focusing on as a profession, and of course, the awesome online conference put together by Sandra. Besides peering deep in my soul and giving me one of the most astute and eye-opening psychological evaluations about my role in the profession, one of the things that Stephen said was that libraries should be focusing on programming because that is what is sustainable and that is what will keep libraries relevant. Of course I agreed, because… Well… It’s Stephen Abram! Why would I disagree?
But then I had a discussion on Twitter with Angie Manfredi and I started thinking more about more about this. The conversation was about focusing on content instead of format. So for example, instead of focusing on ensuring that people are checking out books, we should be ensuring that people are checking out access to the content within the books through the resources provided at the library (whatever those resources might be).
I really hate using our past practices to justify our future ones but I will say a couple of things. Libraries began because people lacked access to books. But people weren’t coming into the library to get books because they liked paper objects bound in leather and cardboard. Unless they had that kind of a fetish I guess. They were coming into the library to get to the content trapped within the leather and cardboard and the words on the paper. When people get DVDs, they are getting access to the content trapped on the plastic. When people get on our computers, they are getting access to content trapped within servers all over the world. When people learn to read, or use computers, or use our databases, or check-out magazines, they are trying to get another avenue of access to content.
So how does this relate to programming? Well, when people come to our programs, they are coming to get access to the content of the program! They aren’t coming to see someone just stand there without providing any content. It’s the content of the program that they are looking for and in a format that is meaningful to them. They want to learn, or be inspired or be entertained by the content of the program. That is what we are providing access to. We are providing access to content through the format of a program.
So, while I agree that programming in libraries is amazing and should be a much larger focus in our organizations than it is, for the future and looking forward I think we should be focusing even more on how we provide access to content in more and more meaningful ways. I understand that he is saying that programming works so well because it’s such a meaningful point of access, but what comes next? As computers and online access become more ubiquitous couldn’t people start watching their meaningful live programming online too? As more and people gain access to the content online and the online content gets more meaningful, won’t we once again be in the same position we are in now discussing our relevance? But if we can focus on making the access to the content of humanity in meaningful way then I don’t think we need to have the discussion of relevance, but continuing this discussion about how we provide access to content. Which, I think, I hope, is the discussion we’ve always been having.