Libraries are instruments of democracy

Let’s set a vision for public libraries for the next 100 years

Public libraries are in the midst of an identity crisis, which is not surprising considering the rapid technological changes we’ve seen over the past few decades.

Now is the perfect time for public libraries to revisit why they exist in society (their vision) and what they do to fulfill their vision (their mission). FYI this isn’t exactly a standard way to define vision and mission statements, but you know what? I don’t care.

A shared vision

Would you say that the fundamental purpose of a small town library is different from the purpose of a big city library? And, would you say that the fundamental purpose of a public library is different now than it was 100 years ago?

Imagine this: a shared vision adopted by thousands of public libraries across the country. A vision that scales to any audience or geographic location. A vision that’s easy to understand, yet evokes a powerful emotional response. A vision which will serve us just as well in 100 years as it does today.

Back to basics

Why do public libraries exist? The first thing that comes to mind is one of the first things students learn in library grad school: the ALA’s Freedom to Read statement.

But, I’d argue that our Freedom of Information encompasses our Freedom to Read, as well as many other essential freedoms relevant to libraries, including our Right to Privacy and Internet Freedom. And, Freedom of Information directly supports our Freedom of Thought.

I’d also say that democracy is meaningless without freedom, and therefore protecting our freedoms supports our democracy. So, freedom of information + freedom of thought + democracy. How about this as a vision statement for public libraries…

Stavick Public Library preserves America’s democracy by protecting our citizens’ rights to freedom of information and freedom of thought.

Give me a reason why this couldn’t serve as the vision statement for all public libraries in the United States. If you like this vision statement, steal it and use it at your library. Ideas have no value until their implemented.

STFU about relevancy

I am going to barf if I hear another person ask, “Are libraries relevant?” People who question the relevancy of libraries don’t understand their value in society, and it’s our responsibility to set them straight. Recommended response: “Well, do you think protecting our freedom of thought is important?”

Use a strong vision statement like the one above to counter haters with ridiculous questions.

Start with why

A vision statement like the one above hits you right in the gut. Reading a statement like that makes me want to lay down my life in the goddamn street to protect our rights. But give me a traditional library vision statement about making community connections and… bored now.

People make decisions based on feelings and emotion, not on logic and facts. This is why so many library marketing campaigns fail — because they’re too busy blabbing about what libraries do rather than why they do it. Libraries can become more powerful if they always Start With Why.

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