Professor Mary Jordan on Kickstarting The Library Corps of Discovery

I am a big fan of libraries. As a former employee of several libraries, current library professor, and extremely enthusiastic library user (who may possibly have skipped classes in high school to hang out in the public library), this is probably not a big revelation. What may be a revelation to some, though probably not YOU as you are also a library fan I’m sure, is how amazing public libraries are today! I travel around the country a lot, and visit every public library I can – and I am always impressed by everything happening in them. Libraries big and small are taking their resources and returning an incredible amount of value to their communities!

Libraries deserve to be explored further, with their past uncovered, their current services shared with everyone, and their future to be mapped. This summer I will do these things – and I want you to join in the adventure! Check out our Kickstarter, and join the community: “Library Corps of Discovery: Exploring Public Libraries.”

I will be driving the Lewis and Clark Trail, and visiting every public library along the way. I will be interviewing library people to find out about their past, present, and any plans they have for the future. I want to know what kinds of history they know about their libraries, and if being located near a trail so emblematic of the American desire to go westward has had any impact on them. They can tell me all about the service they now provide to their communities. Based on work done in other public libraries, this can include services as diverse as planting vegetable gardens and donating the harvest to local homeless shelters, hosting star parties with their telescopes, providing a permanent card (and a place to call their own) to kids in foster care. It will, of course, also include the traditional services of book groups, reader’s advisory, computer classes, and technology training.

These need to be gathered in a systematic way, and shared with the wider community, so people understand that public libraries are not now (and never really have been) dusty repositories of books. And I really want to know what these people think about the future of their own library, and what ideas and plans they have for public libraries in general. The only thing we know for certain is that public libraries are changing; I want to uncover the small hopes and big dreams people working in them have for the future!

Every adventure is more fun with a group, and some good plans. The original Corps of Discovery took some time and some planning (and some research in Jefferson’s library at Monticello, of course); this journey is no different. A good group of Simmons GSLIS students have been working on the planning stages of this trip for several months, collecting library names and contact information, articles and information on the trip, and information on the Kickstarter process. GSLIS students Lindsey Clarke and Sara Smith worked to set up our project, and are manning our social media, busily connecting with people all over the web to tell them about the excitement of this Kickstarter.

Now, we want you to join us! We want to build up a community of people who are interested in public libraries and their future. We want to give people an opportunity to share opinions, suggestions, ideas, and dreams for the future. If you like history, Lewis and Clark, camping and exploring – we want you too! All these things will be included in our project, and we will keep the conversation going not only through our fund raising stage (it ends Tuesday, May 6 at 10:30 AM EDT), but also through frequent updates of both words and pictures from the Trail to let you keep up with all the adventures.

We are asking for your help in supporting three months of travel, and we have some rewards aimed at people interested in our project. We are commissioning a set of five postcards to be mailed out to supporters. Some people will get special stickers (students – these are aimed at you!). Backers at higher levels will receive copies of the e-book about the adventure, can celebrate with us at the ALA Annual Meeting in Las Vegas this June, and can have personalized thank-you cards photographed from the Trail and sent to you. We want this to be a community that embraces libraries as organization, so have set up a few reward levels for programming or staff training, which may be useful to public libraries. (Simmons students: if we are funded, we have a surprise for you! Join us at the student rate of $10 to share in the fun.) So check out our Kickstarter page, and see all our plans. Join us at a reward level that works for you. And plan to have an exciting library adventure this summer, as part of a great community!

If you want to talk with us now, send an email to us at [email protected]. Or follow us on Twitter, or Facebook, or Tumblr. We want to talk with you, and for you to share your ideas about libraries and their future!

-Professor Mary Wilkins Jordan

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