In my introductory blog post, I espoused the thesis that libraries must “first and foremost […] succeed in bringing strong cooperation partners on board. These partners can support libraries in two ways: they can serve as advocates when dealing with policy makers and municipal administration, and also in reaching new target groups. It is my hope that I will encounter in the New York libraries ideas that confirm these theses, which I then can take back to Germany with me as best practices.”
Those who have followed my posts already know that I found many concepts in the three public library systems in New York. Aside from the two advantages of networking that I have already mentioned, I’d like to add a third: through close cooperation with a wide range of groups, clubs and institutions, libraries can identify the needs of their customers and non-customers much earlier. In as much as these needs can be addressed by the library, these offerings can strengthen customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Of course this neither a new idea and nor a typically American one, but the variety of concepts and the many partners from all departments have convinced me that there is still much that can be done on this front in Germany – a potential that I will certainly apply to my own branch library. But there is one special concept from New York that I won’t take with me. Many of the services of the libraries in New York that I’ve blogged about are traditionally offered by other institutions in Germany. Adult continuing education and language classes are offered by our “Volkshochschulen”. And our federal jobs employment agency gives practical advice on job searches, applications and the establishment of companies. Our meeting and neighborhood centers in Bremen are called “Bürgerhaus” and youth leisure time activities are offered by the so-called “Freizis” (youth leisure time homes). Nevertheless meetings with these organizations are definitely called for to ascertain if and how the city library can support their programs (for example through events, training in researching, literature and database offerings). But don’t libraries already do all this? Yes, but just not as intensively as they could. When I compare how closely my branch library works with schools, I see a lot of potential for collaboration with other institutions.
Aside from the institutional networking in our neighborhoods, I believe it is absolutely necessary to find out exactly what population groups live in our areas of responsibility and what expectations they have of “their” library. The Bremen City Library is already moving in this direction and working with social environment studies. In an age of shrinking budgets, it is not only important to set goals for the orientation of a library, but also to create clear profiles for winning new customers. If one knows what demands customers and non-customers have - and if the library can follow through with them – then it is critical that these (new) services be properly marketed. This is best achieved via mouth-to-mouth propaganda (even for non-customers), that is, via networking and multipliers.
What will influence the future path of public libraries the most in the coming years is the dwindling demand for physical collections. City libraries will instead become meeting and communication centers. Demands for a more attractive environment will continue to grow, so that libraries will need more lounge furniture, laptop and work station places, transparent rooms for group work and meetings, and a palette of coffee offerings. The classic information and circulation desks will shrink in favor of more mobility within the library for staff.
I’ll describe the possible effects of these changes on today’s library staff and that of the future in the second part of my conclusion.
Thursday, 6. October 2011
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