By Tori Nunnally
As a librarian, often people ask me if “e-books & streaming” scare me or cause me to worry if I will have a job in the future. Or perhaps my favorite line (read this with extreme sarcasm) is “do people even use libraries anymore? Everything is on the internet.” I try to always take the time to inform those inquiring that libraries are very much alive with countless people walking through their doors every single day all around the world. Not only that, but libraries are meant to be places that embrace new technologies! My first experience with a 3-D printer was at a public library. My first experience with a green-screened Mac Computer (dating myself here) was in a school library. Over the years, I have discovered some of my favorite pieces of literature from Library staff recommendations. Library computers and printers saved my behind more than once in college when my laptop died or when my printer decided to inexplicably quit communicating. Most recently, the library’s e-book collection kept my 5-year old and 10-year loaded with books during the dreaded pandemic lockdown! This translated to Mommy NOT losing her mind trying to entertain them endlessly (at the very least, it meant I was losing it at a much slower rate). “Mommy has to do a zoom call right now, why don’t you and your brother go listen to a chapter of your book together.”
Libraries have changed so much since their inception and I hope they continue to do so. That doesn’t mean that I think “books will go away” or that “computers will replace librarians.” On the contrary, libraries exist for one main purpose: to serve the needs of the community. Those needs are ever-changing and therefore, libraries must adapt and change as necessary. The fundamental pillars of a library though—lifelong learning, early literacy, health and wellness, technology, civic engagement, programs & services, those remain at the heart of what I think a library’s goals will always be. This can mean providing a safe inclusive space; it can mean access to stories of far off places; it could mean retrieving factual knowledge on a subject; it may mean access to computers, internet, printing, or even faxing. Sometimes, it means downloading our app and picking out items of interest from your own couch! When I think of libraries, I think of this beautiful mix of “old and new.” Words like “informative, innovative, dynamic, free, diverse, & educational” all spring to mind simultaneously.
I seriously have one of the best jobs in the world–in a single day I may get to wax poetic about a favorite childhood chapter book, recommend a favorite parenting book, and help a student find an “e-copy” of that book they were supposed to read over the summer that is now completely checked out. You should see their faces when I show them how they can get the audiobook and listen to it on double-speed (a total lifesaver for me in college) on their smartphone. It is pretty amazing.
Just like any job, it isn’t always fun and games though, it also can be challenging technologically and emotionally speaking. There are a hodgepodge of community needs that require staff to wear many hats and assist with things we aren’t truly trained on. Some examples are helping patrons find the right tax forms, locating information about renter’s rights, assisting with applying for unemployment, troubleshooting technology, faxing insurance claims, or putting someone in touch with other city agencies. These are all very real everyday occurrences. This past year, Richmond Public Library also acted as warming/charging stations during cold power outages, provided facemasks and at-home COVID tests to the public, and provided VDH with space for their mobile health unit to provide medical needs assistance in the community. It can be especially draining given the current low-staffing situation, working with outdated/wonky technology all during such unusual global circumstances; however, everyone continues to rise to the challenge and find a way.
For many people in the community, the public library provides their only access to accurate free information & technology. Often the library is the first point of contact that connects people who have serious needs to other community agencies. I am thrilled that Richmond Public Library counts itself among other great public library systems that have evolved and removed unnecessary barriers such as overdue fines from their policies. If you ask any Richmond Public Library employee, they will have a story to share with you about a patron who has needed help with an extremely difficult and personal situation. Libraries are a core service for a thriving community. They are a core service in our city. They are the great equalizers in a society that does not always feel fair and equal. We provide services to all ages and to people with a variety of life experiences. I am immeasurably thankful to be a part of Richmond Public Library’s staff and I am thankful knowing that we all make a difference informing, enriching, and empowering Richmond’s citizens.