The main public libraries in Mauritius have been in existence for more than half a century now. All of them are housed in relatively new, purpose-built buildings, are managed by professional librarians and are quite well off in terms of budget. They are now in the process of adopting a new library management system that will enable them to eventually offer an Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) to their users, in addition to library networking.
But in the vast majority of cases, only the traditional types of library and information services such as circulation, reference, Internet, reprography and children’s services are offered to patrons.
In this era characterised by economic downturn, budgetary cuts, downsizing, declining library membership, shortage of staff and fierce competition from other information providers, perhaps the biggest challenge is to re-invent the public library in terms of collections and product offerings so that it is always perceived as being useful, dynamic and attractive in the eyes of its clientele, parent institution as well as other stakeholders. Today’s library managers have the huge responsibility to be proactive, to think big, to be daring and to show much inventiveness. Learning from best practices is a golden rule in business management. This equally applies to the library world.
In this context, the case of the Denver Public Library in Colorado, U.S.A is worth mentioning. Monnie Nilsson reports in the July issue of The Denver Post that public libraries in this region are increasingly thinking outside the book, intelligently shifting from paper to pixels and adopting consumer-based models in library management. These libraries, which comprise no less than 250 outlets are making the flow of information between users and staff a two-way traffic and more interactive. Among their interesting and innovative services, one can mention the following:
1.Digital Download – by means of Internet access and a library card, the public library offers patrons the possibility to download a book and read it from their desktops, download and listen to an audio book with an MP3, download selected music files or view a movie, for instance.
2. Business Help Desk – anyone interested to start a new business, expand an existing one, or simply do business-related research can tap the resources of its public library which offers online access to many business databases in addition to BizBoost – a business research solutions support desk. Reference experts can help answer business questions or show how to utilize their powerful business databases, such as ReferenceUSA. BusinessDecision is another high-quality database package that performs sophisticated analyses such as identifying household buying patterns, selecting a merchandising mix, analysing competitors, and targeting direct-mail campaigns. These databases and others can be accessed remotely from any desktop computer.
3. Explore interests or Learning something new – the local library also offers classes on how to organize live concert performances, drama,, handicrafts, knitting, yoga, do-it yourself skills and so on to anyone interested in learning something new. Moreover, organizing literary activities, competitions, exhibitions, workshops, talks on topics of current interests on a regular basis are indirect means of attracting patrons to public libraries.
4. Bookstore-like Model or Layout – a public library that is built around the bookstore type of design or layout, located in or near shopping centres with multiple copies of best sellers prominently displayed in visually appealing stacks, with coffee shops around, and incorporating some lifestyle habits in order to eliminate the austere, intellectual and rather monotonous atmosphere of traditional libraries and make them more user-friendly and attractive.
5. Job Bank – in this era of economic recession, the public library can play the wonderful role of a community technology centre by providing a ‘job kiosk’ (job postings and links to job sites ) via the library’s website, helping jobless people build or update their job resume , conducting job-search strategies classes, arranging for practice interviews, allowing job seekers to watch videos of successful job interviews, organising career guidance sessions , offering free practice testing for entrance examinations or to obtain an industry license via the Learning Express Library database.
In short, public libraries in Mauritius must necessarily keep pace with changes around them, think outside the box and constantly reinvent themselves to satisfy their communities’ expressed and unexpressed needs and strive to remain useful.
Nilsson, Monnie (2009). From Digital Media to Job Tips, Libraries Expand Offerings
In The Denver Post, 7 July.