As published in the Red Rock News
Curate /ˈkyo orət,ˈkyo oˌrāt /v. [trans.] to select, organize, and look after the items in a collection or exhibition. (The New Oxford American Dictionary)
Libraries have a remarkably storied history. An example of a notable library is the Library of Alexandria, one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. There is the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and the Library of Trinity College in Ireland, both founded hundreds of years ago and still serving patrons today. Of course, there is the remarkable legacy of the Carnegie libraries throughout the United States. Such great collections, such sanctuaries, such temples to learning. Each a product of its own time and place. Each with the purpose of preserving the knowledge of mankind. And each serving to curate collections of important literature of the past—that is, to select, organize, and look after the items in their collections.
Those collections were curated with a clear purpose in mind—for their users to come to know themselves through literature and other forms of information.
Libraries nowadays are equally marvelous places. They not only collect and organize past literature, but they serve as curators of a community’s future. This may seem an odd thing to suggest given that curating has traditionally looked to past works, but indulge me for a moment as I make the case for curating a community’s future.
Great libraries work to reflect and serve their specific users’ needs; for instance, Sedona Public Library has its notable Arizona collection. A local, significant personage may bequeath his/her personal collection of papers and more to a library, such as Edward Abbey’s materials at the University of Arizona. These tend to look back, not forward, though. The point is a library should create its own collection for the purposes of its users. It does so in order for its users to come to know themselves—not just as individuals, but as part of the larger community in which they live.
The challenge for any library is that it cannot collect all the books of the world. It must select. It must curate. As a part of the Yavapai Library Network that includes public, school, college, and special libraries, no one library in the network needs to create a collection that mirrors that of another member library. By sharing items between the members, each library can offer more than a million items to even the smallest community in the network. Each library thereby has the important opportunity to curate materials that serve its specific community.
Sedona is singular. Its beauty is one aspect of its uniqueness. Other aspects include how it is currently faced with numerous challenges. Traffic, growth, population shifts, the environment, business, and other issues present opportunities for the Library to collect information that will serve the community’s needs to address these challenges.
Long-time residents may recall the Sedona Forums that were held each year. Citizens addressed a specific topic through a town hall process, creating a report that outlined the community’s understanding of that topic, its hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes. These reports served as blueprints for government, business, and citizens to use in building Sedona. Consider the many studies conducted by the City on numerous topics. Love them or hate them, they are valuable resources for Sedonans to use in understanding, planning, and acting.
Studies and reports, though, are only one form of information that the Library can offer. Exhibits, such as the annual quilt show, the weavers’ displays, and photography and art shows, serve as ways for citizens to interact with one another face to face. Programs, including forums, offer another form of information. Children’s, young adult, and LatinX programming, as well as simple social groups meeting at the Library, can be “curated” and “collected” to provide information to assist a community to grow based on knowing itself.
By reflecting its specific community in its collection, a library can serve as a common and accessible resource. The community thereby defines itself and addresses its own particular issues, challenges, and opportunities. In so doing, the library positions itself as a place that is alive, vital, and relevant. It would be easy to see a library that focuses only on the past becoming less and less relevant as people turn their attention elsewhere. Libraries that look solely backwards find themselves becoming lonelier and lonelier places.
Sedona Public Library has for many years strived to serve the whole community with information, materials, exhibits, and resources, as well as offering gathering spaces that have made it one of Sedona’s true community centers. Its vitality is a function of curating a collection that faces both backward and forward. In many ways, the quote by R. David Lankes used by Director Judy Poe in her communications says it all: “Bad libraries build collections; good libraries build services; great libraries build community!”
Sedona Public Library works hard to be a great library by building community. Please visit the Library online at sedonalibrary.org, in west Sedona at 3250 White Bear Road, or in the Village of Oak Creek at Bell Rock Plaza, Ste. 51 A.
Sedona Public Library
Column for May 7, 2021
Written by David Keeber, President, Friends of the Sedona Library
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News.