The great library DEBATE: Are libraries better when they expand and diversify their programs? #NLS9 transcript

I’m still recovering from attending NLS9 in Adelaide last weekend. I had such a great time and it was an AMAZING conference, I will distill my thoughts and post more about that later. For now I’m posting the transcript of my speech as the first affirmative speaker at the The great library DEBATE: Are libraries better when they expand and diversify their programs? session, I jumped at being the first speaker as it meant I could fully prepare what I was going to say well before the conference! I was extremely nervous, this being the first time I have done any kind of public speaking since high school and the first time I have stood in front of colleagues to speak, I haven’t even really done that in the workplace yet! I’ll be interested to see the recording to see just how nervous I look and sound, a few people were very kind and said I didn’t look nervous 🙂

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Good afternoon, I wish to acknowledge the Kaurna people of the Adelaide region on whose unceded lands we gather, and their continuing connection to country. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present. 

The topic for our debate today asks are libraries better when they expand and diversify programs? We the affirmative define the topic to mean that all types of libraries are better, in terms of community engagement and being the best version of themselves, when they expand on collections based services to become places where communities can collaborate, deviate and innovate. We strongly believe in the words of R. David Lankes that “Bad libraries only build collections. Good libraries build services. Great libraries build communities”.  

As librarians we know that libraries are not, and never were, just about the books or places only for quiet scholarly pursuits. On an individual level, I know we know this, because whenever there is an opinion piece published longing for the good ol’ library days or on the slow death of libraries in the Google Age we are outraged. On an industry level, I know we know this because we have peak industry bodies running advocacy campaigns like Libraries Change Lives and Libraries Transform. These campaigns do not exist because of collections based services, they exist because of librarians and librarian-led programs

Collections based services are important to libraries, equal access to information, art and entertainment is a core value of our profession. But we also know that libraries are more than just custodians of information. In her keynote Sarah Brown described the rapid rate of technological progress as a utopia for those with the skills and access, library programs provide an entry point to access technology and develop these skills. By sharing the benefits of information and technological progress in this way, libraries assist in making society more equitable, this in turn fosters community, inclusiveness and democracy. Libraries must expand and diversify their programs to ensure they suit community needs, each community is different and is best placed to define which programs are most beneficial for them. One program, no matter how great, will not suit all libraries. Diversity of programs is the key.

Libraries provide spaces for social engagement and collaboration, facilitating life-long learning, creativity and innovation in communities. This might take the form of language conversation clubs, kids coding classes, sensitive storytimes, makerspaces, entrepreneurial hubs…the list is endless. These programs bring like-minded individuals together to form connections, play and problem solve together. Library programs build connections, connections build communities.

In conclusion, we the affirmative believe that libraries are way better when they expand and diversify their programs. In doing so they provide their community with the tools to be lifelong learners and active participants in the technological utopia. Libraries create programs that foster collaboration, deviation and innovation. “Bad libraries only build collections. Good libraries build services. Great libraries build communities”. 

Library programs change lives. Thank you.

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