Friday, May 3, 2013

Wonderland: The Library Experience for Book Lovers

Do you remember reading Roald Dahl's Matilda? (if not, go read it now. Dahl is still very good reading for adults.) Remember her library experience? For book lovers, that story still rings very true - the world of wonders just waiting in books. It's the same reason we love The Never-ending Story movie, and we identify with Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Books are magical for us, and libraries are wonderlands.

I've posted before about the clash between this nostalgic affection and the image of the "modern library." But I've come to realize that while our wonderland libraries do clash with the library-as-consulting-agency model, they are delightfully consistent with another new idea of libraries: the library-as-destination.

Library-as-destination is really a beguiling vision. Libraries from this vision are community centers, coffeehouses, hubs of literature and conversation. We'll have concerts and storytimes and philosophy discussion groups and many, many book clubs. One of the high points of this vision is that we don't have to give up our love of books! Literature will be a focal point of our passionate community centers. Our teen areas will be cool to hang out in, and our children's areas - well, they will be wonderlands! Bright, magical spaces with toys and climbing furniture and walls of bright, colorful books.
The best thing abut this vision? It's appealing to our most passionate users, our "core" group - book lovers. Book lovers would flock to this library. And it makes more sense, really, to build a library that appeals to the people who already love us, rather than trying to build libraries that will draw in people who are currently indifferent.

So what's in the way? Mainly conflicting visions. A library cannot brand itself as both a cool modern library of expertise and professionalism and as passionate literary hub. We have to pick one. And sadly, there are practical concerns at work here. Our governing body (also our source of funding) is the county government, and they are eager to prioritize economic development - which means that the consulting-library is easier to sell than the wonderland-library. We would need an amazing amount of community support to work towards a different vision. And I think we could get it- it's just a matter of selling the dream.

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