“Librarians are a force for good. They wear capes. They fight evil. They don’t get upset when you don’t send them a card on their birthdays. (Though they will charge you if you’re late returning a book.) They serve communities. The town without a library is a town without a soul. The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libraries are the torch of the world, illuminating the path when it feels too dark to see. We mustn’t allow that torch to be extinguished.
At a meeting of the library directors of our county, there was much discussion about creating a vision statement for all the libraries countywide. We are not consolidated and, as such, all have our own boards, policies, procedures and vision of where our libraries fit in communities. I sat there, trying to wrap my head around the idea of a countywide vision, just not grasping how that type of vision would read.
There was much talk about how we all see ourselves in the future and what we have in common. Yes, we all have books and want to provide people with learning opportunities. We also have technology, but to degrees that run the spectrum. We all want to serve our patrons and be a part of our communities. That seems like a no-brainer and really not something I want to put in my annual report. How does a larger organization with independent membership describe what it will be when every member has a different view of the future?
My library's vision statement speaks more to the position of the library - as a destination - rather than providing an overall list of what we are going to do. Two years ago when this vision statement was written, I had no idea exactly how much of a destination it would be. I never imagined we'd be the site of our community skate park. I also had no idea we'd be readying for the biggest event ever held in the library - the Discover Earth exhibit. On my drive home from the meeting, I kept thinking "what if a great opportunity arises and it doesn't fit into the vision?". I have to admit, it was a little bit of a stretch to find a place that justified the library becoming the site of a skatepark. And I really don't know what is next. Every time I plan for downtime at the library, things pop up that are just too good to turn away. If we spend all this time on a vision statement for all of the membership, what happens if one of us decides to swerve off in a completely different direction? Are we then disloyal to the goals of the great organization? Will I be once again judged for breaking the rules?
Going back to the skate park as an example, one Director told me she completely disagreed with the idea of it. It was not what libraries should be doing. While I respect her opinion and do see the value of her argument, if we are sharing the same vision, how can we disagree so much about what we are trying to do in the future? Some libraries are loud community commons that provide services and programs that are different than what many patrons believe libraries should be. Other libraries are comfortable being a quiet building full of books. I don't disagree with the quiet library idea - it just isn't what my community wants. This is where I struggle.
There is local library that is bringing in a star from a TV reality show. There is a lot of debate about this guy. He has done work for my family and has been called a fraud in the community. While it is a great program idea, I would never bring him into my library because he seems so unethical. It is one of those glitzy programs that could bring more trouble than it's worth. Should that library be punished for not following the "rules" of my vision? Absolutely not. Taking all these things into consideration, I'm back to the same question - how can we have one vision? Maybe I'm not completely getting it. I really, really, really want to be a team player, but there are just some libraries that have ideas about their role in the community that is so opposite to that of my board and the local government entities that support us.
Several years ago when I first become the director of this library, I decided to put together a personal mission and vision statement. It made sense to get myself together if I wanted to keep this library together. Due to unforeseen circumstances, my mission and vision were changed - unexpectedly, quickly and contrary to what I wanted. Because we cannot control anything but what we do. What if something similar occurred in our community? What if suddenly the actions of one library veers off? Does the vision of the entire organization change because one member of it decides to do something that the rest of the membership doesn't agree with. I guess I am stuck - because so many of the members think that the actions my library is taking are very "un-library-like."
I imagine I'll be spending quite a bit of time struggling with this issue, reevaluating where we stand in the greater organization and having long talks with the management of the library as well as the board of directors. It feels like we are a crossroads and have to make the serious decision of how much we want to confirm to a cookie cutter vision of libraries throughout a large geographical region, with different populations, serving different numbers, etc. I think it's going to be a long weekend during which I'll be spouting off philosophical questions that will make my husband crazy. The truth is, though, that Monday morning I'll be heading into work and working towards OUR vision.