A personal visit to The Urbana Free Library: A TTW Guest Post by Warren Cheetham

9089638882_16b364b89e_mYesterday morning (Tues 17th June 2013) I found myself at the Urbana Free Library, which is the focus of a lot of attention in library land at the moment. I count it as a professional privilege to have spent two hours with some of the most inspirational public library staff I have ever met. Here I offer a few observations and opinions based on my visit to the library.

I’m travelling through the USA for the next two weeks on a VALA Travel Scholarship, investigating existing and planned projects where fibre-broadband rollouts affect libraries. The twin cities of Champaign and Urbana in Illinois were my first stop, and I met with lots of people from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of IllinoisThe Champaign Public Library, the University’s library serviceUC2B (the Champaign-Urbana broadband company) and The Urbana Free Library. It was a wonderful and inspirational two days.
That morning the local paper’s front page had a story about the library issue creating a lot of news and concern with some people. At the library, I toured the building and spent about an hour speaking with Joel Spencer and Amber Castens, both Adult & Teen Services Librarians. While touring the library, I acknowledged that I had read the news and was aware of the comments about the library. They didn’t shy away from the issue, and it came up briefly several times during our discussion. I didn’t press them on any details, because I was there for other reasons. So we had no in-depth discussion about details, people, decisions, and repercussions.
Two things stood out for me.
1) Joel and Amber are two of the most quietly committed, passionate, caring public library staff I have ever had the privilege to meet. I only spent two hours with them, but you know the feeling you get about people – it’s the way they talked about their jobs, their community, the people they served. You know these people are here for the love of the job, not the pay or conditions.
2) That afternoon as I skimmed some of the ‘news’ and opinions about the issue at Urbana Free Library, I quickly became concerned thatsome decisions, by some people, and the reactions and responses bysome people involved in the library has tarred the whole library staff and service with a similar brush.
We all know that issues are complicated, and it’s easy to oversimplify. It seems this issue has a way to run, so before taking up the pitchforks and racing to the barricades, please take a moment to consider that this is a real workplace, with real people. From my visit, some staff appear to me to be doing a wonderful job delivering some amazing library programs to a community with more than its fair share of challenges. It’s OK to make observations and constructive criticism, but please tread carefully and professionally.
Joel and Amber; Rock on – you’re my new library heroes.

 Warren Cheetham is the Coordinator of Information and Digital Services at CityLibraries Townsville. He has worked in public libraries for twenty-one years, and his professional interests include the application of technology to public libraries, and how to best deliver information services, reader engagement, corporate research services and training to library staff and customers in an online environment.

This post was cross posted at Warren’s blog: http://stainedglasswaterfall.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-personal-visit-to-urbana-free-library_20.html

For more about his study tour: http://broadbandlibraries.net

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One thought on “A personal visit to The Urbana Free Library: A TTW Guest Post by Warren Cheetham”

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m a GSLIS graduate and have been to the Urbana Free Library. Staff from there are active at the library school, and students do practica. I was impressed by what I saw, and can only imagine that this is bringing distressing negative publicity to wonderful staff and a much loved library. I only hope that along with the negative press, the issues bring about positive change.

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