Loving the Model vs. Loving the Mission

By: Ann Wilson, MLS, MA, Collection Development Librarian


As a librarian, I think a lot about the evolving role of libraries. Sometimes I find insight from unexpected sources.

Our pastor has been sharing with our congregation some thoughts on our changing world and how the church can remain vibrant while seeking to connect with this changing world, which, on the surface, seems to change so much from day to day. Specifically, he has offered ideas from Carey Nieuwhof, a church communicator and strategist who wrote an article called “10 Predictions about the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns” (23 Feb. 2015 blog). Prediction #2, “Churches That Love their Model More Than the Mission Will Die”, caught my eye especially, because I believe it is appropriate not only for churches, but also, for libraries.

Nieuwhof used the example of the invention of the automobile to illustrate his point. As automobiles became common and affordable for average families, carriage and buggy manufacturers lost business and many went under, even though human transportation actually exploded as average people began to travel more than they ever could before. The mission is travel; the model has changed over the years, from horse-drawn buggy, to car, to airplane. Many other examples exist – think of the recent developments in the fields of communication, music, photography – and even publishing. The mission is entertainment, but the model shifts from 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs and streaming audio and video. The mission is information, and the shifting model includes books, magazines, videos, audiobooks, online/digital content, social media use, innovative programming, maker spaces, and much more. Companies that innovate strategically around their central mission (think Apple or Samsung) will outlast companies that focus myopically on their method (like Kodak).

Can we apply this concept to libraries? What is our mission? Could that question be answered differently by different libraries? Could a library have several missions, perhaps dictated by the various populations who use the library (or who we WANT to use our library?) Does the mission of a library change over time?

Answering these questions consciously will help library decision-makers chart a path through a changing landscape. Keeping the mission(s) foremost in the minds of library staff should help the library connect with the changing world. The key to this effort lies in separating the specific means and media we utilize to serve our patrons from our ultimate objectives as community-based centers for learning and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. To paraphrase and adapt Nieuwhof’s summary statement, “In the future, libraries that love their model more than their mission will die.”





Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.



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