Working Librarians' Perceptions Of The Role Of The Public Library In The 21st Century
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Tax-supported public institutions with often-insufficient resources, public libraries in America can only provide a limited array of programs, services and materials. Recent surveys of the public show libraries are important, but there is a lack of understanding and awareness about what the library does and the source of library funding. Librarians have long known that they do a bad job of telling others about the library. An unclear mission would make communicating difficult, as it is hard to communicate what the library does if there is no clear role or purpose for the library. Examining current professional literatures shows little true discussion of the public library's purpose or role. Why had no one surveyed professional librarians about the library? Moving beyond these investigations of public sentiment about the library, this research asks not just whether the library is important or valuable, but also what librarians feel the role of the library should be. What emerged from the focus groups, interviews and surveys was a picture of the ideal public library, librarian and library role as perceived by librarians working in the field: the most important or critical role for the public library today is to present a variety of ideas and opinions. Libraries should provide both traditional and newer services and still see information as imperative. They value equal access and being community centered. They believe librarians need to be able to adapt and change, have fresh ideas, be committed to those they serve, know the best way to find information and have a high tolerance for the peculiarities of people. These findings are similar to those of the surveys of the public about the library. So why a disconnect? Librarians value what the community wants and the larger values, ideals and roles of the library and the profession. What happens when the two conflict? As a profession, librarians need library school and continuing education courses and opportunities that focus on public service, community organizing, surveying and assessing community needs.