What We Talk About When We Talk About Libraries

image of Laurinda ThomasLast week I had the opportunity to do something that most teenagers would love to do, and most adults would run a mile to avoid - I was on TV. 

Many of you will have seen the footage on Breakfast, in response to a Marlborough Councillor who (inadvisably, imho), made an off-the-cuff comment that perhaps libraries could be replace with eReaders. Cue media frenzy.

I've had a number of positive comments about the piece and some very thoughtful feedback, like this from Books and Adventures. 

It's true that often we don't get to chose when or how the media decides to be interested in us. Library stories tend to be doom and gloom (The final chapter for Libraries?' as Breakfast put it) and fighting with Councils about budget cuts. Positive stories tend to revolve around the feel good factor and are often relegated to 'filler' status (the recent North and South article being a notable exception). These undoubtedly give the profession publicity, but is it the kind of publicity that we really want?   

I ask this as a deliberately provocative question. What is the conversation that we want to be having about libraries with the public of New Zealand? And, is that a conversation that the people holding the purse strings will actually care about? 

When we started the #brandlibraries piece of work, it was deliberately about some of these questions. Our current brand is, very strongly I would argue, books. It has served us well for hundreds of years. In some regards it still does. In other regards, it leaves us dangerously exposed as a profession.

There are things that that LIANZA can do to help shape a new conversation (like #brandlibraries for example, lobbying and high-level advocacy). But we rely on you to make those real, personal connections every day that inform public opinion. We're a passionate profession that needs to talk more and get louder about what we do and the value of that.

So, the next time you're out and someone asks you what you do, make sure you tell them, and why it's so important.  

Be proud, and change the conversation.




At Auckland Libraries, we see ourselves as a space of imagination, learning, and connection for the whole community – using collections, programmes, events, and digital offerings to connect Aucklanders with the wider world of knowledge and culture.


Our strategy document, Te Kauroa – Future Directions, offers a 10-year roadmap for 21st century libraries. It draws on the international standards set by the IFLA/UNESCO  Public Library Manifesto.


When we talk about libraries, we’re reaffirming that Manifesto’s belief in the public library “as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.”


Whether that means books, ebooks, or offerings that don’t even need shelves…


Fionah, I respect your decision and desire to remain being called a 'librarian'. I too have worked hard to become and remain one. However, librarians are usually people who work in libraries. In this day and age, libraries as we traditionally understand them are changing. Some librarians no longer work in libraries as such, but in community hubs, or other types of information centres. If libraries are changing, our users' needs are changing and librarians' roles are changing to meet those needs, perhaps we do need to keep pace and if appropriate, revisit how we describe ourselves? 

Amanda Curnow


If somebody asks me what I do, I say I'm a librarian. I worked hard to become a librarian and I work hard at being a librarian. Why would I want to call myself something else?

I'm not interested in being called a "knowledge manager" or a 'community engagement executive" or any other name designed to con people into thinking I'm something else that is somehow more important.  Why should I be ashamed of my title?

Instead of pretending not to be librarians in order to seem more relevant we should be changing people's perceptions of librarians so that they realise how relevant we already are.

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