In the past few days, I have been following the fallout from the November 20, 2008 press conference held by Nashville, Tennessee Mayor Karl Dean. At this conference, he announced that the city library would begin taking over the operation of school libraries system-wide in January 2009. After the press conference Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely confirmed to American Libraries that she and Mayor Dean had been conferring with each other for several months about this possibility. She was quoted in an American Library Association release as follows;”We all talk about thinking outside the box, but here’s an idea that truly could transform the public library and the school libraries because we would be enfolding them into the public library structure”. Further she indicated that the idea was “strictly a proposal at this point” and “Its just a matter of organizing it and understanding how it all works and going forward with it.” These two last comments seem on the surface to be contradictory.
As one who has a good understanding of how public and school libraries operate and whose Ph.D. dissertation was a study of combined school/public libraries, I can talk endlessly on the differences in mission, clientele, services, staff training, educational requirements and organizational structure between these two institutions.
However, I am a firm believer in cooperation. In Williamsburg, the Williamsburg Regional Library has a strong partnership with Williamsburg/James City County Public Schools. Our focus is on the community from birth to death while each school library’s focus is on supporting educational instruction for the students in their school. Within these separate focuses, the Library and the School System have developed cooperative programs and services that make use of the individual talents and experiences of staff from each entity. In this approach both entities and their users are enriched. However, combining our operations would be like making pumpkin pie with oranges and apples and expecting the result to be a pumpkin pie.
I am also a firm believer in thinking out of the box. There are always new approaches to issues and problems and many solutions are found when new thought processes are put to old issues. However, when one wanders out of the box it must be done with all parties in mind and being fully cognizant of the ramifications of your thought process. In Nashville, it appears that all parties are not yet a part of the process. When that happens failure is a guaranteed result.
Yes, this could be a transformational event. I would encourage all parties to back off of where they appeared to be on November 20 and sit down and discuss the possibilities for public library/school library cooperation. Hopefully, it is not too late for this to occur. A lot of what Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely mentioned in her recent comments such as combining school library and public library catalogs, the joint ordering and processing of library materials and extended hours for school library service can be accomplished through partnerships which leave each entity separate to serve their unique user communities.
In any case I wish the Nashville Library community the best as they enter a challenging time in their corporate and individual lives.
So long for now!