This is my editorial for the VLA News – November 2011, but I’m copying here because this is something I really enjoy and want to share out!
Vermont is purported to have the greatest number of public libraries per capita in the United States — approximately 175 of them. As a member of theVermont 251 Club, I have made it my mission to visit all of them.
I’m sure there was a time when I didn’t know what the 251 Club was but now I can’t imagine life without it. Started in 1954, the club challenges its members to adventure through the 251 towns & cities of our great state. 251ers are not about just passing through places and checking names off a list. We stop by, meet folks, shop around, dine, and generally try to feel out what makes each community unique.
Everyone has some sort of mission, something that makes them feel as though they can cross a town off the list. Back when the club was started, 251ers visited every post office and got a stamp. Now people choose their own adventure. My best road trip buddy eats in every town. A fellow librarian has to visit with the whole family. I take pictures of libraries. In towns without libraries I photograph whatever suits me. Some towns are so small that there is nothing with the town name on it save the border marker on the county route.
Without intent, I am documenting every public library in the state. Whenever I tell folks about my “251ing The Library” project, they say I need to share it. So now I am. This is something I do for fun, so I didn’t really have the forethought to write down something about every town or take detailed notes. I just remember my favorites. For instance, did you know that both Richford and Bellows Falls have the best thrift store shopping in the state? Are you a fan of taxidermy? I am, and most libraries have at least a handful of taxidermied critters. The most impressive collection I’ve found so far is at the library & museum in Westfield. It kept me busy for over an hour.
I post my pictures online in a public photo album called 251 Club Evidence, organized in the order I visited the towns. A large chunk of pictures are also collected in my Vermonavigation album from when I circumnavigated the state last summer with the aforementioned road buddy. If you want to see where I have been, check out my personal map on the 251 Club website. Found a picture of your library in my albums? If you like it and want to use it, feel free.
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Maybe it’s because I only finished grad school last year and the whole 2.0 thing was all we read/talked about for two years, but I’m just a smidge burned out on it all. Not the technology parts, but the whole “what is library 2.0?” debate. I guess I just don’t care if libraries are 2.0, or maybe I take the tact that libraries have always been 2.0. The thing is, librarians worth their salt are always out there discovering new tools and resources, even if they just stumble upon it in the course of their usual work, and trying it out on their patrons. Good librarians are always debating the relative merits of hot new resources. What seems to change is the stuff we stumble on. Instead of a new magazine or journal, it’s a new tech tool or a wiki. Or, really, it’s all of those things. I know librarians who have been recommending blogs and wikis and things to patrons since long before they knew that wikis were a big deal, or that a wiki was what the tool was called. Or even more, that librarians recommending wikis was a big deal. They found a resource and they shared it, isn’t that what we do?

The whole focus on being a 2.0 library has actually taken a lot of focus away from librarians being the 2.0 folks they already were. We’re all in this mad scramble to get on board and use all this hip new stuff and we’re bypassing the whole process that we used to use to determine whether the tool was appropriate or useful to our patron base. Remember when we used to come across something, ponder it’s value and uses, and then offer it up if we thought our patrons might benefit from it. Remember that? Isn’t that kind of what people come to libraries for? It’s not just the books or the movies or the computers. It’s access to someone who has done the research so you don’t have to. It’s access to resources that you know have been combed through. Isn’t that part of it?

And, in all this scramble, a lot of our basic services are suffering or not getting enough attention. For example, how many poorly designed library websites are out there with a blog and a Flickr stream attached? It is not really our job to be hip for the sake of being hip. That energy would have been much better spent on making sure the website was basic, standards compliant, and usable by all the patrons with the desire to use it. This basic building block is being ignored in web design in the rush to have this fancy stuff usable on the library web presence. I worry, what else are we bypassing? It was just so much easier when we folded this new information into our work rather than focusing so hard on now, NOW!!!

I think that things like the 23 Things is a great way to crash course librarians who have not, for whatever reason, had a good entry into these tools. But let’s all try to remember that we are shopping around here. Our patrons look to us to comb through all this stuff and offer them what we think they will use and maybe even just what they will like. But not every community is the same, and if you’re not in a community that cares about your library blog, than we shouldn’t feel like we have to use that piece for the library.