I spent last Friday in Augusta at the Maine Humanities Summit sponsored by the University of Maine Humanities Initiative. I also participated on a panel of academic and public librarians to explain the role of libraries in the “public” humanities. The attending group was made up of the converted, those of us who see in others and experience in ourselves every day the “Power & Pleasure of Ideas” – to borrow a phrase from the Maine Humanities Council. We spoke of public libraries being a provider, presenter, collector, promoter and organizer of the humanities. So it was on fertile ground (and with gratitude) that our individual presentations were received. There was little if any surprise just appreciation.
I am always fascinated by the surprise that folks have upon rediscovery of the public library or coming up against the popular notion that the public library is not long for the world. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times blog post “In Praise of Public Libraries (Personal and Trivial)
” speaks to the simple delight in finding a space in the community that has some infrastructure, a culture of sharing and no expectation of you except civil behavior. Meanwhile, beyond offering a sweet spot in the daily grind, public libraries everywhere are gearing up their summer reading programs and reaching out to kids and families to do what we can to bring the beauty of the arts and the humanities (literature, history, art, music and much more) to the neighborhoods and towns across the country. Quiet magic – day in and day out. No chest pounding, no vapid self-promotion, just quiet and sustained effort to experience the “Power and Pleasure of Ideas”.
Derivative tends not be a compliment as it implies lack of creativity or more recently a bad financial instrument. But let’s be honest, many great ideas in all areas aren’t new (like bookmobiles) and libraries mostly work with the basics of those ideas and spin them to serve some niche. PPL like other libraries lends a variety of unexpected materials including telescopes (brought to us through our partnership with Cornerstones of Science), Kill a Watt energy detectors (given to us by a private donor),and most recently ukuleles modeled on the idea first demonstrated by the Newport (Maine) Cultural Center and neighboring Falmouth (Maine) Memorial Library.
Even Isaac Newton acknowledged the contributions to his work of those before him. It is a pleasure (and an ethical obligation) for us to acknowledge this tradition of public libraries.
The digital presence of PPL is one of the three “environments”, along with our physical facilities and soon to come bookmobile, which we need to master. Each environment has its own unique set of dynamics and user experiences. It is no secret that our current website is …. Well, to find the right word … packed. It is hard to navigate and, although there are plenty of great resources on the site, it doesn’t do a good job helping us serve our many different users.In the next two months, we will be finishing some projects that have been months in the making which will radically change our digital profile and how we will relate to our users. Several new platforms will be unveiled that will make it easier for us to connect with our users, expand library collections and make it easier to find information. In June our new website will be rolled out. We have been working with VONT, a local web marketing firm, for over a year to integrate social media, such as Facebook, more effectively within our site and to incorporate new tools, such as BiblioCommons.
BiblioCommons will provide a new library catalog experience, allowing users and staff to share lists of items and provide much better access to our collections. Finally this spring our digital collections will begin to utilize the Digital Commons platform. You will be able to use search engines to explore collections such as Maine News Index, Children’s Theater of Maine, Portland Press Herald Still Film Negatives, Maine Jewish Oral History Projects, Casco Bay Weekly and many more.
We are very grateful to the Sam L. Cohen Foundation for their support toward these projects.