I’m part of the Strategic Plan Implementation team here where I work. Now that we have this great strategic plan for our Systems office, it’s time to go about setting it in motion. From the outset of the strategic planning process, it was clear that we did not want to end up with a document that would simply sit on a shelf gathering dust. The strategic planning process was never meant to end at the plan. It really begins there as our plan is meant to be–and will be –a living, fluid, actionable document.

At our meetings, we’ve been talking about how to begin the task of addressing each of our strategic priorities and turning the theory into reality. These meetings are my favorite part of the week. I love to talk in theory. I love ideas and vision and visionary ideas. I love the idea of change and the potential it has to make a difference. Reality can be a real killjoy when it comes to thinking at a high altitude.

One of the things we need to constantly keep in mind (in fact it is actually one of our strategic priorities) is to be mindful of the realities of our member libraries because they are the ones with staff on the front lines providing service to the public. They are the ones trying to keep their doors open.

I like talking in theory on this blog, too. As the tagline on my daughter’s blog says, “I just made the words be whatever I wanted” (which is also a quote by her favorite author). I love using words to make ideas and thoughts and visions make sense. I like using words to theorize about potential, which is sometimes not based in reality as much as in desire or dreams.

It’s so easy for some of us who like to blog about the what could be, what if, and why not of libraries, to talk a good game when we’re not in the game ourselves. While I do work in the profession, I am most definitely not on the front lines, although I do have some contact with the public as a volunteer. But I’m probably not as mindful of the realities as I should be. It’s easy to tell someone else to get their house in order when you live above the fray.

I think there’s room for both theory and reality, and I definitely think librarians need to listen to voices outside of the profession. As my administrator said yesterday, the really exciting part happens when you begin to turn your ideas into action and you see a new reality that was first born in theory.

I know many library directors, particularly those from small, underfunded libraries, who work way beyond the hours for which they’re paid. In addition to attending to what one would consider the “normal” needs of a library–staffing, collection development, circulation, reports, budgets, board meetings, etc., they also act as the building maintenance crew when there’s a leak; the plumber when the facilities aren’t working; the landscaper when no one else has cut the grass; painters; the cleaning crew; the entire circulation/cataloging/reference staff when necessary. These are dedicated people who devote themselves to their jobs. Who am I or any of us to tell them what their libraries could or should be? Their days are filled with the reality of putting out fires and keeping their heads above water. They are often undervalued and their hard work taken for granted. Who can blame some of them for being resentful when people talk a good game about what they are doing wrong when the things they do right are simply expected and not particularly celebrated?

Of course, directors aren’t the only ones in the line of fire. All front line staff has to meet the needs of the day and have little time to dabble in developing strategies for the future. It’s not enough to just say what libraries should become in the future without addressing the reality of what they actually are today. Because if they can’t keep their doors open today, there will be no tomorrow to move toward.

As I continue to write about the future of libraries, I intend to be more mindful of the here and now. I applaud those of you on the front lines. You are fighting the good fight every day. And you’re not doing it from behind a computer screen or from the place of comfort that distance provides.

Visionaries are great, but if you’re looking so far ahead that you don’t see the hole in the ground right in front of you, well, you’re going to end up in a ditch!

Ha! I can just imagine myself at the circ desk in a mythical library somewhere….

Patron: I have the new Patterson on hold. Can I have it please?

Me: You’re in luck! Today, rather than give you your book, I’m going to give you instead a new vision for public libraries!

Patron: Uhh…well, I really just want my book.

Me: No. You think you want your book, but what you really want is a new vision for public libraries.

Patron: No. What I really want is my book. If I can’t have it, could you please show me how to download the ebook onto my Kindle?

Me: No. I am morally opposed to providing ebooks that are restricted by DRM and sold by vendors that are in bed with publishers who are out to get libraries. Sorry!

Patron: Well…what can I have?

Me: You can have the assurance that public libraries have a great vision for the future.

Patron: That’s great. But in the meantime, can’t I just have your stuff? I like your stuff.

Me: No! Trust me. Several years from now, you will not want our stuff. You will want instead our knowledge and information expertise. You will want to use our facility as a place to have coffee, hang out with friends, play games, commune with other telecommuters, and perhaps create things! You will turn to your local librarian for knowledge and information control. You will love us so much you will die from happiness. I could give you our stuff, but I would be doing you a great disservice as well as cheating you out of your future.

Patron: DVDs?

Me: Nope.

Patron: Audiobook?

Me: I don’t think so.

Patron: Okay then. Could you please cut this up (presenting library card)? Because right now it’s not getting me what I want. When it comes time to use it to access your “vision for the future,” then I’ll get another card.

Me: Wise choice, my friend. Wise choice.

See? I am in a ditch, for sure.