Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

Three old things I know: Reporters should be as a fly on the wall. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Flies on walls are more attended than political spouses. Thus I blog.

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Name: Viki Volk
Location: St. George Island, Maryland

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dreaming of Libraries

If I were dreaming about the perfect library I would plunk it down in the midst of a campus with – at least – a small middle school and small elementary school. My favorite part of this particular dream is to include – attached to the schools – offices for a social worker and a police officer and a public health officer. I’ve got no problem visualizing librarians in that mix.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know, I know, I know … That’s why I call it dreaming.
My public construction dreams always reduce central bureaucracies. I dream of central offices holding many fewer desks but just as many filing cabinets. Naturally, in my dreams, the few administrators are cheerful and keep their agency’s missions alphabetized, on-time and legal.
In my dreams social workers, public nurses, cops and other such human advocates work as close to teachers as I can imagine them – helping services are provided from offices embedded throughout the community.
My favorite part of this dream is linking to public schools. I believe public schools are the most important of the three great American institutions that permit democracy by making knowledge available to everyone. The other two are a free press and public libraries.
I can do quite a few riffs on this theme, but usually stop myself at this point; realizing dreams of de-centralizing bureaucracy and empowering neighborhoods borders on delusional. Still, dreams do ultimately prove the starting block for public construction. And lately dreams about a new county library on a hunk of undeveloped public land are making headlines – as such things often do. It got me dreaming.
A quarter century ago Leonardtown’s library was overflowing. Librarians and citizens convinced the powers that were of their need for bigger digs. They got the Armory.
The next St. Mary’s County library dream resulted in new construction – a regional library in Charlotte Hall. By the time the facility was built desktop computers, the Internet, changes in service needs and deliverables made the ultimate arrival of bricks and mortar obsolete by completion. (It's like when a jetty was finally built to protect a channel for commercial fishing access, but commercial fishing had died before the channel was completed. But that's another story.)
Because librarians are resourceful, the Charlotte Hall building was re-imagined as a community library that houses a regional function.
A more recent decade -- and this was nearly a decade ago -- was spent seeking funding to replace the old Lexington Park library because it was located beneath an aircraft flight zone for tester jets.
I’m just saying.
I'm saying that technology is ubiquitous. I'm seeing the time it takes to move dreams into bricks and mortar. Concrete outcomes are increasingly obsolete by the time they are achieved. Having sat through my fair share, I have my doubts that public hearings can resolve this. Bureacracies can't easily change course midstream. Perhaps, like most of us, they don't have the ability to see changes as they are happening.
But whether those of us steeped in print media acknowledge it or not, cataclysmic changes on the scale of Gutenberg’s press have occurred. It is no longer a question whether electronic books and computers will replace print books, let alone dvds and everything else ever labeled "media."
The questions now are how to preserve the integrity of knowledge in the face of incalculable input; how to disperse it. Books might not even figure into the equation by next decade.
What is needed is not less dreaming, but larger dreaming. Not delusional dreaming but struggling through today’s immediate needs to imagine a life not yet invented: Tomorrow.

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