George and Joan, Thinking Out Loud about Sustainability

podcastIn this edition of Thinking Out Loud, George and Joan take on the issue of sustainability planning for libraries. In the recent past, libraries have been big on strategic planning – what we are doing, what we should be doing, what we hope to do. Sustainability addresses not only what we should be doing but how we can continue doing it over the long haul. They identify four types of sustainability: existential (why do we exist?), operational (how do we build capacity?), political (who we work with to make common cause?), and financial (what resources do we need, and what do we have?).

George mentions a recent OCLC report, Perceptions of Libraries 2010, in the podcast. That report is available for download. And remember, George and Joan want to hear your comments and thoughts! You can email them at

One thought on “George and Joan, Thinking Out Loud about Sustainability

  1. Joan and George – this podcast so succinctly and honestly articulates core issues of ‘the library dilemma’. Bravo!

    A few items about the fire department model are instructive for libraries. The first is that they provide a service others do not. The second is that they’ve identified a clear role within the public safety/healthcare realms and manage themselves to reliably deliver high-end services.

    Support for fire departments isn’t as challenged as it is for libraries because there clearly are not alternative sources for the equipment or expertise they provide. Secondarily, while it’s true they line the nest through things like sending a fire truck when they’re called to assist someone having a heart attack – in general, their role is reasonably defined. We don’t dispatch the fire department when a car is vandalized. Similarly, we don’t staff ambulances with surgeons or medical billing assistants. They provide the right service at the right time with the right resources.

    How true is this of libraries? As you noted, libraries have incorporated so many ‘add-ons’ that even they commonly cannot identify all the services they provide. Increasingly, I observe them devoting significant resources on services that are inexpensively and well provided by others. Popular digital music is an example. Is there any chance that a library could this as well as Apple, Amazon, Pandora, rDio and a range of other providers? WRT staffing, it’s far too common to have people with graduate degrees performing entry-level work and volunteers or paraprofessionals staffing the reference desk.

    From their inception, libraries earned public support and esteem for two key reasons. They provided what others could not and they did so with fidelity and integrity. Libraries can sustain this support and esteem through the type of honest reflection you discussed in this podcast.

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