A game plan for busy libraries’ future
October 11, 2012
Don’t look now, but the book business is booming—at least in the Los Angeles County Public Library system, which during the past fiscal year saw digital downloads of e-books spike by 57%.
There were 360,000 downloads—so many that, for the first time, the “virtual library” ranked among Top 10 busiest branches in the system. (It clocked in at No. 9, between No. 8 Hacienda Heights and No. 10 Diamond Bar. The county’s No. 1 branch, in terms of circulation? Lancaster.)
Patrons logged some 2.7 million public internet sessions on library computers and used some 4.82 million minutes of library Wi-Fi.
“We know that our world is changing dramatically,” says County Librarian Margaret Donellan Todd, “but our communities are also telling us in different ways that they continue to value our buildings and our space.”
In fact, during the last fiscal year, the system’s story times, book talks, cooking demonstrations, and other cultural programs drew more than 700,000 people—up from 485,000 participants the year before. “That’s 13 Dodger Stadiums full of adults and children,” Todd notes.
At the same time, libraries—particularly in South Los Angeles and the East San Gabriel Valley—have been packed to the rafters with students, job hunters and telecommuters. Requests from patrons to hold books and other items stood at 8,000 per day last fiscal year.
It’s the dilemma of the Digital Age: On one hand, voracious consumers are demanding more and more computerized data and downloads; on the other, the isolation of the information economy has made brick-and-mortar libraries more cherished as community gathering places than ever. (This week the L.A. Weekly named the county’s year-old West Hollywood library “Best Library to Get Serious Work Done,” lauding its “minimalist, boutique-hotel interior” and “stunning views.”)
So now, faced with a host of competing demands, the library system is asking for help in plotting its future.
In a decidedly novel approach to strategic planning, county librarians are inviting the public to weigh in, Hollywood style, on priorities for the next several years in the county’s sprawling library system. Their method? A lighthearted click-and-drag game in which contestants can win prizes, and help decide, for example, whether the county needs more books or more computers, more meeting rooms or more downloads, more global resources or better ways to connect locally.
“It’s really an important question,” Todd says , “but often when you ask it directly, peoples’ eyes just roll. We need the information, but people get hit up for surveys all the time and it’s boring. So we asked whether there was maybe something more fun and interesting that we can do.”
The result, conceived by library staff with the help of consultants, is “Library 2020: The Movie,” in which participants click on their priorities in various aspects of the library system’s mission and then edit their “film strips” into a handful of top priorities. The first 200 participants will receive a free movie pass, and everyone who completes the game will be entered into a drawing for a free iPad.
Todd says librarians are hoping that the online game will help them allocate scarce resources as the county’s needs evolve. But if you aren’t the gaming type, she adds, don’t be shy. “Just drop us a line with your suggestions—or email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. We really want to hear from our communities.”