ASSOCIATES (2005, November, v. 12, no. 2) -

*My View From The Back Room*


Carol Borzyskowski
Library Associate II
Winona Public Library
Winona, MN 55987

Redefine your place and space now for the future

Summer is gone, fall is lingering, and no, we do not have snow here in SOUTHERN Minnesota. Yet. But that may change. Weather is really one of the big changes around here. Back when I was in high school (ahem!) we had heaps of snow, it started in November and lasted into March or April. Snow in May wasn’t unheard of either. I have pictures of cars parked on the street circa late 1970, and the snow banks were even with the car hoods. Now it seems we have a brown Christmas as often as a white one, and maybe only one or two big shovelers a year. Change. The weather has shifted in our little valley, in great part due to global warming I am assured, but for some reason of cosmic quirkiness our winter weather has shifted up to the Metro area and we just get to watch it on television (and smile).

That is just one change, or glimmer of a future trend. There is also the mystery of the disappearing frogs but I will save that one because I need to dig in and reach the heart of this column… Change in libraries and what you as library support staff can do to embrace the coming change. I would like to recommend a really interesting and well written article on future change in libraries at It is entitled The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Transformation, by Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute. Not only did I enjoy it but it made me think about the role of the library Paraprofessional or support staffer.

Things are really going to be changing, libraries will have to re-invent themselves, and why not take this opportunity to re-invent yourself or your position? You do not have to be chained to the same tasks every day, and you do not need an MLS to get moving on this opportunity. What you do need is a vision of the change you foresee for your library and community, and the determination to make yourself an expert in an area of need. Yup, no degree, but probably lots of practice, studying, helping, reaching out, and a few well placed “I can help you with that” or "I know how to do that!”

A basic point of the Frey article is that all technology is changing, and it is changing fast; look at the newest gizmos out there, learn how to use one and figure out a way that your library might either offer the service, the space for the service, or help on using the gizmo. I mean, can your phone take pictures, access the internet, play music and give you driving directions? Yes? Then can you share that expertise with your patrons? Is there a need to work up a class and run it by your director and offer it to the public? If not you, can you offer to arrange to bring in an expert to do some training? Act as the liaison officer, or at least offer to help set something up if there is a need in your area.

One big area of change will be in storage and access to storage of information. Once discs get to the size of a penny and hold 1 million books, just where do they end up and how do you get to the stuff inside? Now is the time to really sharpen your Internet search skills. Be an asset in that way. Soon searching will not just be key word but will include visual clues, tactile clues and even scent clues. Believe it! Read up on changing technology, be ready when it hits and make the most of your skill and position. With so much free and easy information available, it is becoming more important daily to be able to discern what is reliable and accurate. Libraries are the place to do that--we should be able to help our patrons figure that out. Work on a great bookmark list of reliable sites, and sites that are user friendly. Your bookmark list could be a valuable tool to share with other staff members, spread it around. Jump on the Library Blog bandwagon, offer to write it up and have it linked to your library web site. Does your library have a technology board or something like that? Ask to be part of that group and stay in touch, as it is a start!

Another possible future transition for libraries is to switch from being the information center of a community to becoming the cultural center or cultural repository of your community. Many libraries are already going in this direction; indeed they house art, sculpture and more. But to bring people into the building and see the physical building as necessary there has to be more to offer. We are in a unique position to offer this type of service. We are used to helping people fill their needs; why not move to more of an open offering of space? Libraries could create space to offer up ideas like a lecture series on not just books, but changes in technology. Libraries could offer the space to groups to create things like blog rooms, chat rooms, meeting rooms, cultural and diversity information and offices. Be creative and let staff and the general public come up with ideas to use the free space. It all depends on what your particular community prefers, and that you won’t know until you ask them. When is the last time your library did a far reaching survey that asked your community not only what they expected in a library, what they wanted in a library, but what THEY like to do, what THEY feel is important to them. That type of informational survey is something else support staff could compile and research. Yes you could! Offer input on questions, offer to type, offer to deliver surveys to designated sites and pick them up, don’t just include the people who walk in the door; brainstorm on where the community people are, and survey them.

With creative space to offer the public, your library could end up with a recording studio and you could even adapt that to a “MEMORIES OF” room. A place where local residents could tell their stories, contribute pictures, and share memories. So many options, and I tell you the role of Support Staff is ready to embrace them all. I could preserve and share my memories of snow storms and pictures of buried cars. To quote Bob Dylan (also from Minnesota!)

          "…You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows…"

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