As I approach my first holiday season in northeastern Arkansas, I would like to thank the communities of Mississippi County for making my family and me feel welcome and at home. I have been spending a fair amount of time getting to know local leadership and the regional economy via the day to day business of running the county-wide library effort, as well as through participation in the Blytheville Leadership Institute. As I continue to become acquainted with the economic and cultural environment of the County, I am looking forward to working with the Library Board to do some long-range planning.
This planning will involve a review of the System’s mission as we continue into an increasingly digital society. With the mission in mind we will create initiatives to improve, add to, and perhaps even remove some of the things that we currently do. So, what may the libraries of the System look like several years down the road? That is a pretty complex question which precipitates a fluid and quite speculative answer.
As a starting point I would like to offer you folks some of same thoughts that I offered to the Board in the cover letter that accompanied my application for the Director’s position earlier this year. Here are some key quotes from that letter…
I believe that communities are increasingly viewing the role of the public library as a “community living room.” The resources that the library makes accessible can be used to generate improvement, imagination, and/or expression in addition to offering recreation. Events and exhibits can be organized to showcase community culture. Community musical performances, dramas, art and photography shows, book talks, game nights/competitions, and writing competitions are just a few events that the library may host and/or sponsor. Public libraries are increasingly collaborating with entities such as local museums, businesses, civic organizations, departments of parks and recreation, community centers, and education institutions to offer customer programming that reasonably complements the goals and efforts of the greater community. All of this should be done with the goal of continuing to generate meaningful and recognizable value to tax-paying customers, philanthropists, and potential financial stakeholders.
The library can be a comfortable, non-threatening place where people may come together to address changing, life-long learning needs such as basic computer skill development, self-education/research ability, technology fluency, and/or media literacy; to conduct civic business; to support small business development; to study and complete work required for online degree programs; to discuss recreational reading interests; to develop skills associated with avocational interests such as those needed to enjoy certain hobbies and crafts; or to converse about a life changing event over a cup of coffee. These sorts of functions can bring together people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, cultures, and interests.
Library spaces may now offer environments of productivity and collaboration. Many libraries are deploying “maker spaces” which offer customers certain production-oriented hardware and machinery. Customer adoption of these spaces may indicate a new role for libraries as a “community workshop.”
The advent of digital repositories provides opportunity for libraries to build community archives and special collections of strategic importance to be accessed without geographical barriers. If a library is the documented owner of certain resources, such items may be digitized and offered to the world creating strategic value for the library as a storehouse of unique resources and for the community as a special place in the world.
These are some of “things” that I think the System should drive toward in the months and years ahead. Something that we are doing immediately is to attempt to increase our visibility to our customer base. Watch for our logo to appear on the System’s literature and website -- and even on the vehicle I drive all over the County. (Certainly, feel free to call me out on any hazardous driving habits!)
I have also filled our vacant PR Specialist position with Mrs. Beth Roberts. In addition to being the editor of this newsletter, Beth will be working directly with me to coordinate our website and social media presence, and she will assist the System’s management team with our programming planning and efforts. Thus written, allow me to introduce Beth.
Beth brings to the System experience in both education and administration. Her experience in education comes from both Greene and Garland counties. Her stay in Garland County allowed her to maintain a very active relationship with the public library. Beth’s experience in administration comes from several non-profit settings as well as Christian ministry: she is also the wife of Reverend Zach Roberts of Blytheville’s First United Methodist Church.
Beth and Zach have two kids. Beth’s leisurely interests include playing with her children, making homemade bread, knitting, and reading historical biographies. She is currently reading through biographies of all of the United States’ Presidents. Beth looks forward to “raising the awareness of the benefits of a lifestyle of reading,” and is “excited to get to know all the people of Mississippi County.”