Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Do You Change A Cultural Memory?

Today's thought-provoking guest post is from Ashley Bieber, the youth services manager in Rice Lake.  I hope you will make comments!

Here in Rice Lake we are in the beginning stages of a new building project.  As part of this, we held focus groups during National Library Week with various populations in hopes of getting a feel for how people felt about the current library, and any thoughts or wishes they might have for a new one.

As the youth librarian, I offered to set a focus group up with young people.  I contacted the local Boys & Girls Club and they were able to round up a group of about 10 kids aged 10-14 that I could meet with after school and ask them questions about the library.  We have a great relationship with the Boys & Girls Club and they often bring their members to our library events, which include a variety of activities from DIY crafts to outdoor movies to lock-ins.  Most recently they came to our Hunger Games movie release party, where we did games and trivia, then boarded a school bus that dropped everyone off at the theater.  Most of them come to library even without the club to play our Wii, XBox, use netbooks and "hang out."

Knowing this, I was quite surprised with their responses when I asked the question "what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say library?"

"Books.  Reading."

Me: "Really? That's it?"  Well, I wasn't too surprised that books were the first answer, but even when I pushed them to elaborate, not much else surfaced.

I was intrigued by this so I decided to poke a little further - "Okay, how does the library make you feel?"

"Sleepy, bored, sneezy from dust, quiet."

Me: "What?!  You all come to library and know that it's not ANY of those things!"

It's baffling to me -- that these kids actually come to the library, where there are video games, computers, technology  and other programs, food, a very liberal sound level--yet still when asked, these tweens responded with the stereotypical answers of what libraries were long ago.

What's a librarian to do?  Perhaps it doesn't matter if their reflex responses don't match with their reality.  But in this day and age, when I'm so used to thinking of libraries in a modern context, it's always interesting to get a wake up call with a blast from the past.

Is it a problem?  I'm not sure.  But it does motivate me to keep pushing and educating kids about what libraries are becoming, and what they could be in the future.  I hope someday when I ask that question "what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word library?" I hear "crafts, games, video games, music, movies, art, programs, friends, technology, creativity, fun...oh, and reading books of course!"

*Photo credit:  clemsonunivlibrary

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