Reflections on the Knight Library and New Media Conference

Jorge Ramos, anchor and journalist, Univision
and Kara Swisher, co-founder Recode and New York Times contributor

Library Foundation board member Gene Cochrane reflects:

The Knight Foundation recently convened the 13th Knight Foundation Library Conference in Miami, Florida. Jenni Gaisbauer, Lee Keesler and I attended representing the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. The meeting expanded my understanding of libraries and the growing role they serve in communities.

I offer the following impressions as a “lay observer.”

Trust: The value of libraries as organizations that are trusted by communities was frequently expressed and discussed. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has built organizational value for many years. I came away with a sense of responsibility to protect and represent the library in the Charlotte community.

The changing connection of Libraries to their communities: There are numerous avenues to access information in our society. How do future libraries identify their distinctive role and not allow library resources to become another information commodity? How do libraries determine unmet opportunities which citizens might not yet recognize as information necessary to succeed with the changes in society? How do libraries expand services and not wander into programs of low value and become less effective by attempting too many disparate services?

Defining the future of the “community” library: One library director related a story of her two children who lived in different cities and maintained membership in her local library. The increasing digitalization of information, coupled with electronic access, means a cardholder might not live in Charlotte. How does this change the long-term view of library membership and the potential impact of local government support?

Digital: The rate of growth and focus on increasing digital services is impressive. One library discussed its goal of 50% traditional resources – 50 %digital. Imagine the demands for employee training, recruitment, emerging skills, and the cultural changes that lie in the future and the need to balance these with traditional library services.

Sharing of resources: Other library systems represented at the meeting included New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Brooklyn. Charlotte is a valued partner in the discussions. There is an increasing move to share library resources from library to library by digital means and through national library organizations such as the Digital Public Library. While this is a positive use of resources, there was a significant discussion about what information should make available to other libraries. One participant used the phrase “which shelves do we protect, and which shelves are we willing to share?”

Our leadership: No one would be surprised by the respect the other library leaders display for our Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO Lee Keesler and Library Foundation executive director Jenni Gaisbauer. The universal comment I heard was, “you must be here with Lee and Jenni.” Lee’s words are illustrated by the old investment firms commercial, “When Lee speaks, everyone listens.” Jenni is an excellent connector of people across community networks, and through her abilities, opens many doors for Charlotte.

Any of you would have been proud to attend with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on your nametag. I certainly was.

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