Butterfly in the sky ... I can fly twice as high

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Library's "Ground Game"

As we move ever closer to election day, we hear more and more in the news about the importance of each political party's ground game. While this has been called the first social media election, and we have been fascinated with the high-tech campaign applications and the use of social networking, many in the media are once again pointing back to the old-fashioned ground game as a vital difference-maker in the next few weeks.  Yahoo News's Walter Shapiro discussed this in a recent article, noting that while "the voter contact lists may be based on sophisticated algorithms... the streetwalkers and the door-knockers of politics still depend on time-honored techniques like broad smiles, practiced pitches and infinite patience."

I think this is a great analogy to what we as librarians face today. We can encourage eye-catching technology, we can develop great city-wide and national programs, but in developing these advanced and complex plans, we can not ignore the importance of the "ground game."  I see this often in the public libraries I visit. Access to great digital resources, and great web designs are important and do encourage users and visitors. Great pedagogically-sound early learning resources made publicly available in libraries offer another great opportunity to encourage early reading. But all these efforts are often only as effective as the on-the-ground interaction that librarians can provide for visitors.

The importance of the reference desk librarian can not be lost in the flood of technology. Similar to the political campaigns, it is the broad smiles, ready answers, and infinite patience of the youth services librarian that can make or break a child's experience with books and reading, or provide a care-giver with the critical resources to encourage such skills. A good reference desk librarian can help build a lifelong connection to the library. But the opposite is also true. As libraries face budget constraints, I too often find that the librarian sitting at the children's reference desk is not a specialist in that field, and is unable to provide users with the answers and resources they need. Alternatively, an aloof and disengaged reference desk librarian can similarly dampen user's experiences.

I am a major proponent of technology in the library. And I am also very committed to creating and disseminating learning resources to libraries to help encourage early reading. These programs and technologies can be essential to improving library usage and teaching best practices. But, it is important to remember that in most cases, these tools are only as valuable as "ground game librarians" can make them. We have to support our local and branch librarians to best facilitate the use of our far-reaching library resources.

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