I recently watched a Ted Talk by Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action.
In the talk, Sinek argues that success — whether in business, social movements, or any other area of life — depends not on the products we sell, but on the “why” we do what we do. It starts with a core belief and all of our products and processes flow from that belief.
Apple’s core belief, for example, is that they “challenge the status quo” and “think differently” (according to Sinek). Building high quality computers and devices is just how this belief manifests itself. They could make toasters — and probably most of us would agree that these toasters would be different and special in some way, at least insofar as we buy into Apple’s core belief.
As your librarian, I have to admit that I spend a lot of my time thinking about library products and processes — how to get the new books out quicker, where to source better computers, evaluating staffing competencies and so forth — but when you ask me why the library exists, I need to step back and think about it.
Why does the library exist?
To answer this, I needed to look deeper than the “what” and the “how”, past the books and computers, comfy chairs, story times, book clubs, community partnerships and great customer service that our patrons have come to expect.
And here is my answer: Information changes lives.
Of course, the library being a community institution, your answer to this question may be different — and no less valid — than mine. I personally hesitate to use the term “information”. If there were a term that incorporated all the elements of the “DIKW pyramid” — data, information, knowledge, wisdom — I would use that instead.
And this “information” (or whatever) doesn’t just “change” lives. It enhances, improves, amplifies, embroiders, elevates, exalts and raises up our lives.
And it’s not just individual lives either. Our community — which is made up of individuals yet seems to me to be more than just the sum of its parts — is changed.
To put it another way, this living, breathing organism called Creston or Creston and district (or Creston Valley or the Town of Creston plus Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas A, B and C) is elevated/improved/amplified as a result of the fact that all of its members regardless of age, gender, background or income level have shared access to stories that impart the wisdom of our species, resources containing information on health, gardening, spirituality and every other subject under the sun, programs designed to assist people in accessing all of this richness, meeting spaces for local citizens to share their own knowledge with their fellow citizens, and a warm, comfy place to sit down and enjoy it all to boot.
Perhaps my original formulation will suffice: Information changes lives. That’s what we’re about.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this column or any other library-related matter. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just stop by the library anytime.
Aaron Francis is the chief librarian at the Creston Valley Public Library. He is currently reading Blindness by Jose Saramago.