By: Jim Gill, Director at Dover Public Library
OK, so if you are reading this blog article you probably work in a small public library. One of the things that I struggle with as a small library director is how to keep up with the “Big Boys” when it comes to new and innovative resources, programming, and initiatives. You know what I’m talking about. You open the latest American Libraries or Library Journal and you are both fascinated and inspired by cool new things you see libraries doing across the country. New technology, new digital resources, great programming ideas, etc. At the same time you get frustrated because some of the things libraries are doing are just not in your budget. In a lot of way, small library directors are like MacGyver—you know the guy with the jeep and the mullet and the leather jacket that works for the Phoenix Foundation (what exactly do they do?) and gets into all kinds of jams and ends up using a fifty cent piece or a yard hose nozzle or some other random thing that he happens to have in his pocket to diffuse a nuclear bomb. In essence, small library directors are a lot like MacGyver in that we never quite have the ideal resources for things we would like to do, yet somehow find a way to make it work. I think we can all relate to this. I won’t lie to you: I sometimes get library envy. More specifically, I get library budget envy. Money doesn’t always solve your troubles but I think we can all agree that it would be nice to try!
So how does MacGyver come into play at your library? Sometimes I think we feel the pressure to be “innovative” and to be “early adopters” on the latest widget or electronic resource or format. I would like to caution you! Are your patrons asking for this stuff? Does Mr. Woods come into your library asking if the library uses Second Life? Ooops, that was soooo six years ago. Does Mrs. Cavalena come in demanding to know where your “Maker Space” is? It is OK to be a small library! Embrace knowing nearly every patron that enters your building! Take pride in offering free WIFI to the community and a good (though sometimes small) and well-rounded collection. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! Sometimes the most simple program ideas work. Late last year I stumbled on an article detailing how the Lafayette, LA Public Library created a 100 Book Club. In a nutshell, they challenged the community to read 100 books in a calendar year. If a patron completes the challenge they get invited to a special recognition event, a limited edition t-shirt, etc. I loved the idea because it was so simple. So one day I called down to Dixie and spoke with the staff member in charge of their program. I expressed interest in doing a similar project at Dover and asked if I could use their literature, theme, ideas, etc. Southern hospitality is an understatement. They sent me all their promotional material and any info they could gather about how they developed the program. They simply asked that I not use the logos they had specially made and to respect the overall feel of their version of the program. We decided to tweak the program a tad in a few ways. We created a new logo and came up with a different version of a logbook. We also plan to handle the recognition aspect of the program a little differently as well. We were amazed when nearly 300 people of all ages poured into our doors after the local newspaper did a story on our version of the 100 Book Club.
In the end, all I had to do was ask. I would like to challenge you at your little library wherever that may be to be steadfast against the anxiety caused by trying to do too much with too little. When you get frustrated when you hear what other libraries are doing, take a deep breath and slow down. Chances are you doing something special that may just need a little tweaking. Look around at other libraries and see what they are doing. It is OK to borrow ideas and to respectfully use those ideas in your own way. Be sure to ask permission if you need to, but know that most librarians are very eager to help out. Be a MacGyver and not only make do with what you have, but find a way to make what you have even better by collaborating with other libraries and involving your staff.
OK, $100 bucks to the first small library director who has a patron who comes in unannounced asking for a “Maker Space!”