He lacked the best images in his PowerPoint slides. He was clearly a bit nervous at first. He overused the phrase “the bottom line is.” However, Hutch Tippetts delivered one of the most well-rounded presentations about the potential of libraries that I have witnessed in several trips to IL conferences. It was IL2011’s Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington moment. Unfortunately, no more than about 30 people heard what he had to say this morning in the San Carlos Ballroom.
Mr. Tippetts explained how the community became involved with the Douglas County Libraries, and how the workers at DCL thought carefully about how they could help their community. The librarians fielded children’s questions about their homework, assisted the election board, confabbed with folks from the local high school district to find out about its needs, partnered with local museums and art institutions to the point that DCL’s staff had to stop giving away so many passes to cultural events due to their popularity. They did it all without QR codes or expensive content management systems or iPads or displays of supercharged metatagging.
While outsiders might wonder about the compromises Mr. Tippetts & Company had to make by aligning themselves so closely with local business interests, and about the seeming absence of a healthy skepticism regarding the library’s larger political context, almost anyone working in the public sector could appreciate Mr. Tippett’s dilemma: the glaring fact that he has more and more library users while receiving continually fewer public dollars. That is the case with public colleges and universities as well. Enrollments balloon across the board in higher education while state legislatures slash funding. Perhaps had Mr. Tippetts time, he might have generated some ideas to shift the public’s attitude back to supporting the long-term public good with tax dollars. Public libraries are one of those goods.