Chattanooga Public Library

Shifting Perception: Why Essentialness is Not the Problem

By Corinne Hill

The fact that the topic of “the essentialness of libraries” is trending right now reveals a completely different issue that has nothing to do with the library being essential.

What this trending topic and ensuing discussions reveal about our profession is that we’re totally insecure. We are frantic in our zeal to be everything to everyone, and we’re so busy and distracted with the gathering of evidence to defend our existence that we forget who we are.

We lament the loss of funding but can’t seem to make the difficult decisions of what to do with the money we do have. We bemoan that no one understands us, no one realizes all of the great things that we do. This says way more about us than it says about them. We are telling the world that this is all about us. And it makes explicit that we really don’t understand our communities.

Chattanooga Teen Space

In our weakened defensive posture, we openly hack away at our self-confidence. We wear our non-essentialness on our sleeves to the point that fosters more doubt and fuels the debate where there is no debate.

If we don’t believe in ourselves who will? Will our community? Will our funders?


It’s well past time to take control of this narrative. But not just in talking points. This is not a self esteem workshop where we write our daily affirmations until we actually believe them.

This is the real work of what makes us essential. The ground level work.

That work is defined by knowing the values of the communities we serve and delivering services that support those values.

That work is defined by knowing the priorities of the funding agencies we rely on and aligning our strategies with theirs.

That work means giving the community the library it deserves.

A library woven into the fabric of its community; a learning institution that helps build better cities, and more informed citizens; that contributes to economic development, youth development
and public safety. It’s about a library with an administration that is mercenary in its decision-making process of service delivery, and is willing to shed its missionary role.

When we embed ourselves in this common purpose our essentialness is self-evident. It’s not up for debate. You can’t touch this. The library is so obviously essential to the community it serves that the question is never posed.

This article was published in IMPACT magazine . See what more top library leaders think about shifting the perception of public libraries: 


photoAbout the Author

Corinne was awarded 2014 Library Journal Librarian of the Year and named as an LJ Mover & Shaker in 2004. She is the Executive Director of Chattanooga Public Library, which known for it’s innovative community-focused 4th floor.



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