Friday, July 29, 2011

Please Get Our Best Side

Recently I was at my regular spot by the front door when Robert Dawson appeared at my desk, looking for all the world like a distinguished safari guide. "Hello," he said, "I am traveling around the country taking pictures of libraries, and I wonder if we might take a picture of the outside of your library." Inwardly, I gasped. The outside of our Library is the object of much commentary, almost all of it disparaging. I was simultaneously fascinated and mortified. I tried not to stammer. "Well," I said, "Our building is not very presentable, but-" He quickly assured me that he would take it from far enough away that the crumbling shutters and peeling paint would not show. (I couldn't help but wonder how far away that would have to be.) What did end up on his website is a picture of our front door and steps. You can see the picture and read what they wrote here. There are many fascinating pictures of every size and shape of library across the country.

I discovered that Robert Dawson is a very well known photographer, that he is from Stanford University and has published books based on various photographic projects he has undertaken. Some of them are: The New Deal Legacy Project, The Water in the West Project, the Global Water Project, and the Farewell, Promised Land Project.

When I responded to his request by apologizing for the state of our building, I am sure he must have been remembering many other similar encounters at other libraries which are struggling to maintain the condition of their buildings. This man felt that libraries are important enough to photograph and honor in a collection and book; to travel across the country documenting the diversity of communities and how they honor and preserve their libraries. What does it say about us?

He also took some pictures inside, and I was amazed to see him set up a tripod and drape his jacket over his head as a cowl to shoot the pictures with his 4X4 plate camera. Turns out Robert Dawson is famous for his photographic method, and it makes his photographs rich and timeless.

I did not know any of that as he stood before me, requesting to preserve forever the state of our library's exterior. It showed me so clearly that we never know when or how we might unexpectedly be called upon to account for our condition. How a community treats its public buildings, especially its libraries, speaks volumes about that community.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Are Libraries Obsolete?

Who needs libraries if you have Google and ebooks? A lot of people! Let me tell you why I think we will always need libraries. (Yes, I know I'm biased, but I'm also right.)

If a library was nothing but a building full of printed material, it might be obsolete - but it's not. As a matter of fact, our attendance figures are higher than they've ever been. Why? Look at the tag line on our website: your community center for information, technology, and culture. That explains it all.

Your Library is part of your community. It has people in it - both staff and patrons. Computers are not shared experiences - libraries are. While browsing the new books, you could ask your neighbor standing next to you what she has read lately - or ask a librarian for recommendations. You could participate in a program. You can hold a meeting of your organization. You can have books read to your children - or they can learn how to draw from an artist. You can ask for help with any kind of project. Let's face it, computers are nice, but people are much more important.

You can get information at your Library that is simply not available anywhere else. Look at a copy of the Natchez Democrat from the 1800's - or an old Natchez High annual - or a Natchez phone directory from the early days. When you look something up on Google, you frequently have no idea of its authenticity. But your Reference Librarian can show you how to use our collection of many databases that are not available via the internet - or cost mucho money to use elsewhere. Also, you may not even know how to get started looking for something, but your librarian does.

And if you want technology, your Library has it.  We may have the largest and most up to date collection of computers in our area, and they're all available FREE. We even have special computers with programs just for children - and they are almost always being used. Because Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, many of our citizens cannot afford the latest in technology. But everyone has access to the Library. Libraries have always been the great equalizers in society by making knowledge available to everyone regardless of economic status.

No community is complete without its culture, and the Library is its repository. You might be surprised at some of the programs that have been offered at your Library. (Follow us on facebook or twitter and find out.) We carry books by local and state authors. Some people think the New York Times (especially Sunday's) is the place to go for the latest in the national cultural scene. However, it's no longer available free online, but it is available free at your Library. By the way, there are those who think more and more of online information will be fee based - making Libraries even more important.

In summary, don't cut up your Library card just yet. You're going to be needing it for a long time to come.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Librarians Head to New Orleans

On Saturrday June 25th, eight library employees headed for New Orleans to attend the American Library Assosiation annual conference. I'm new to the Library, and this was my first ALA conference. It was pretty overwhelming. There were over twenty thousand attendees, wide eyed and eager to see the latest - including over five thousand venders displaying their wares.

We spent five hours trudging through exhibits with bags upon bags full of free samples of books, posters, gadgets, and many, many catalogs. We returned to Natchez tired but full of new ideas to help our patrons have a pleasant library experience. Be on the look out for new books and fun, interesting programs for everyone from kids to adults.