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What Librarians Can Learn from Basketball

Basketball is the national sport in the Philippines. If no basketball court is available in a neighborhood, you can be sure that a makeshift one will be built in someone's driveway, an empty lot or even a main thoroughfare. Sadly, the same is not true of libraries. If one is not available, Filipinos do without. Could it be that libraries are unnecessary?

In "Means, not ends" (Journal of the Medical Library Association, July 2004), T. Scott Plutchak makes a connection between basketball and libraries. When you start reading the article, it's almost as if it's going to be just about basketball, but he eventually gets around to libraries:

It is easy to complain about heartless and narrow-minded administrators who do not see the value of the library. But what have you done to prove the value of your library to them? How are you making sure that they see ways that the library can solve their problems? Libraries cost money, and, if the administrator cannot be shown why spending that money improves the overall health of the organization, then the administrator has an obligation to shut the library down and spend that money elsewhere. That may turn out to be a bad decision, but it is still a rational one.
Libraries are, of course, not basketball courts. But there is much that librarians can learn by looking at why Filipinos are so devoted to the sport. I do not have time to go into specifics, but Plutchak makes some important points:
Basketball is not an end in itself...—it is a piece, an important piece, of building an overall university community that provides students with a full range of educational, cultural, and community experiences.

Libraries are like that, too, and librarians need to think of themselves that way... We have talents, resources, and skills that are essential for the success of our institutions... That means getting out of the library and talking with the people we serve about what they are doing and what their goals are. It means thinking about what the institution needs and not what the library needs. Sometimes, it even means going to basketball games.
Libraries are not just about reading and research. Libraries are also about providing what users need or want. And if librarians can entice users to visit the library because of an exhibit, for example, that interests them—say, a retrospective on basketball players or relevant materials on the Anti-Wiretapping Law—then it will be easier to demonstrate the relevance of the library to the rest of the community.

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