As the technology revolution reshapes society and lifestyles, libraries face a unique opportunity for change. And the way libraries respond to that challenge may determine the fate of library professionals.
Richard Dougherty, American Library Association president, made that observation during a visit to Salt Lake City this week."Libraries are in a position to be very involved with the community," Dougherty told the Deseret News. "If libraries do not continue as the `peoples university' as we have been described in the past, then libraries must at least become the community information center."
Meeting the challenge won't be easy. Dougherty says a growing shortage of professional librarians and the constant battle over censorship will add to the challenge.
"We (librarians) need to change our image," Dougherty said. "We need change the public's perception of what libraries are doing in the community.
"If we do not make reasonable changes, by the year 2000 it is possible our profession will no longer be recognizable," Dougherty added.
Dougherty said he was mildly surprised by a recent Southern California poll that actually shows 65 percent of the public was using library services on a regular basis. He said that result goes against the popular perception that libraries are becoming less important. He said reports from other areas also indicate more people are using libraries.
If that trend is to continue, libraries will have to join the technology revolution. Dougherty said that includes developing a national computer network that will make access to information readily possible from even the remotest corner of the United States. "I think we need a 50-state electronic backbone network."
"One we have that in place, it will be up to the individual states as to how it is integrated within the state," Dougherty said.
On censorship, Dougherty said libraries must continue to work toward balance. He said there will always be political-, religious- and sexuality-oriented pressures on libraries.
"We need to make sure all sides of issues are exposed," Dougherty said.
In recent years, censorship has taken on a violent tone in some areas, especially at universities. A growing number of vandalism and property destruction incidents have been reported involving materials deemed offensive by some groups. But Dougherty believes strict adherence to policies and procedures developed to address complaints will resolve most problems.
More important, said Dougherty, is ensuring the future of libraries.
"The public library movement in the United States is both unique and important, we need to make sure it remains," Dougherty said.