Against the Grain Interviews Mary Graham,
Vice president of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce
By Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
And Katina Strauch (Editor, Against the Grain) <email@example.com>
ATG: Mary, we noticed that you were recently quoted in an AP article about the Bexar County’s BibiloTech, the nation’s only bookless public library. How did you learn about this new approach to library service?
MG: The Chamber has an annual Metro Leadership trip to another area where we take a group of our business leaders to learn how another area has dealt with issues we are trying to solve locally. This year we held our trip in San Antonio. We plan the trip several months in advance. A couple of weeks before the trip, I happened to see a story on the national news about BibiloTech and thought it would be great to go see it if we could arrange it. We had already had a meeting with Charleston County Public Library leadership about their plans for expanding library facilities and thought going to see BibiloTech would be relevant to those discussions.
ATG: According to the article you said that “If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.” What makes you feel that way? Do you see “bookless” libraries as eventually replacing existing facilities? If so, where would people who still prefer print books go?
MG: We had two public school administrators with us on our trip. Both of them commented after touring BibiloTech that kids now learn differently than we did – they use technology and we have to change how we try to teach and incorporate technology into that delivery if we want to engage them.
The other take away for our group was the cost of BibiloTech. The cost was so much lower than a traditional library so you could have more facilities in the community and place them in areas where access to technology is a challenge.
ATG: Are some of your friends and members of your family library users? How do you think they would react to a bookless library?
MG: I am a huge library user. I am there every weekend checking out books, because I am also a big reader. We aren’t saying replace all libraries – we are saying this is another option. We should have both.
ATG: We understand that you have visited Bexar County’s BibiloTech in person. How would you describe your initial impressions? What aspects of the library impressed you most?
MG: It was like walking into an Apple Store. Amazing. Having facilities like that – or incorporating them into existing, more traditional facilities, can attract new users to libraries.
ATG: You were also misquoted in the article and contrary to what was said, you and the Metro Chamber of Commerce are not pushing Charleston leaders for a bond measure in 2014 to fund a similar concept. What actions are you recommending, if any? Will you be in favor of “bookless” libraries for the new library branches being discussed for our area?
MG: We are meeting with the Library leadership as well as County leadership to understand the needs. The Chamber will study the issue and determine if we will support what is currently being proposed or not. One of our main concerns right now is the Library would like to place a bond referendum on the ballot this November. Charleston County School District is also considering asking voters to extend the one cent sales tax currently in place to build/renovate school facilities and Charleston County Council is considering placing a referendum on implementing an additional ½ cent sales tax for transportation. That’s three separate issues for voters – to ask them to increase their taxes. We are concerned how any of three could pass.
ATG: From your experience, how do people in the business community view library services as a community resource? Do you and you colleagues at other Chambers of Commerce include library services in you promotional efforts when recruiting new businesses?
MG: We don’t necessarily promote the libraries as part of efforts to recruit new businesses, but libraries are an important part of the education culture of a community. We don’t promote the Symphony either but in many ways the two are alike – having those assets in your community does play a part.
Economic development is a process of elimination – so companies will look for those communities that have the business climate they need. The additional cultural/quality of life assets are not leading factors in location decisions.
ATG: What services do you think the libraries of the future will need to provide if they are to remain a valued community resource? What will those libraries look like?
MG: I think libraries have to be flexible and change as the community changes. On our Metro Leadership visit in 2012 to Nashville, we also visited their library downtown. They had eliminated an entire floor of collections and replaced it with a recording studio that residents could use. That is another example of innovative thinking – a music studio available to the public makes a lot of sense in Nashville. Our local libraries have to be innovative in meeting our communities needs in the same way.
ATG: On a more personal level, what is your favorite thing about living in the Charleston area? We sponsor the Charleston Conference, an annual event that attracts some 1600 librarians, publishers and vendors every November. What would you recommend as “must-sees” for the first time attendee?
MG: Get out and walk. There is no better way to get the real feel of Charleston. Other must haves for me – walk the Ravenel bridge, take a carriage ride and visit Waterfront Park – all three of them – Charleston, North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant.
ATG: Mary, we really appreciate you sharing your insights about libraries with us. It’s great to get another perspective! Thanks so much.