Libraries as throwbacks (in the best sense of the word)

My family recently attended a Vintage Base Ball Association game. The “ballists” (players) were following the 1858 base ball rules. These are commonly thought of as “gentleman’s” rules, and they would begin changing significantly as the sport’s popularity took off following the Civil War.

The first thing you notice at one of these games is the ballists do not use gloves. The ball was a bit softer back then, and the fielders used just their bare hands. The next thing is probably the fact that the trees, the barn, and the farm implements in the field are all in play. And the batter is “dead” (out) if a fielder catches the ball off of any of these things or even off one bounce on the ground. Then you notice that the “hurler” (pitcher) is supposed to put the ball in a good spot for the “striker” (batter), and there are no balls and strikes.

But the big difference between what we watched that day and the playoff games currently taking place is the integrity, or fairness, of all involved. And that is what made me think about our profession. (Yes, this does have something to do with libraries.)

Those old-time base ball players were playing hard – neither team wanted to lose. But the baserunners were calling themselves out on close plays. There was no need for instant replay, fielders indicated whether they caught the ball on one bounce or not.

Library marketers will cringe when seeing the terms “library” and “throwback” used in the same sentence as we try to remain relevant in a world with Google, Amazon, Apple and the like. Too many people already identify us with the clichéd image of dusty books sitting on shelves.

But I think the library definitely needs to be a throwback when it comes to how we serve our communities: with integrity and fairness.

In a public library, especially a small public library, we have a great opportunity. We get a chance to know many of our patrons. And not just know them by what web sites they visit or online purchases they make. We get to serve them directly, often actually chat with them face-to-face, listen to their problems, assist them with what we are able. And we do that for every single person we can.

In fact, the library is really the only place like that in my community, and likely also in many of yours – one of the few places that (usually) doesn’t require you to take out your wallet. The library is not focused on the bottom line – or trying to take over the world. But all of us in the profession are playing hard and trying not to lose.

So, as we try to deal with all those issues that are constantly circling and move our libraries forward; in order to thrive, we also need to be throwbacks when it comes to serving our communities.

Integrity and fairness — things that play as well in 2014 as they did in 1858.

Chris Owens, Director

Blanchester Public Library

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1 Comment

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One response to “Libraries as throwbacks (in the best sense of the word)

  1. Well said. I would love to quote a few lines from this !

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