Video games and hobbyist endeavors are not all that libraries are trying. Far from the stereotypical "shhh!" from the stereotypical librarian-silence-enforcer, indie rock bands (well, at least one that plays Harry Potter-inspired tunes) are being hired to play shows in libraries. There are comedy shows, too — at least one out on the library's lawn in a small town in Michigan. Inside, "beyond the usual books, e-books, CDs and DVDs, some libraries are now lending out telescopes, musical instruments and electricity monitors," writes Fletcher.
"Yes, libraries do programs," Meade told me, "but this is nothing new. Yes, sometimes those programs are 'unusual' (I admit, I've never seen butchering in a library and I'm not sure what my personal feelings are about that, but that's neither here nor there), and sometimes they are a response to whatever is popular or current. But I do not see this as a furtive grasp to stay relevant. This is what libraries do. I think it's great that some libraries are able to lend out items other than books, because it shows that they are responding to the needs of their particular community. But again, I do not see it as a desperate move to stay relevant.... We've got relevancy coming out of our ears."
Meade admitted that she'd been frustrated of late about depictions of libraries in the media, specifically "how the media just does not seem to get what we do" — as an example, she cited a recent post from CNBC.com in which the job of librarian is described as one of the least stressful of 2013. On her blog, she wrote in reaction, "Aren't we all just floating on clouds made of sugar, leisurely reading books while basking in the glow of constant patron compliments? Nope." She continued in an email to me, "I should add that while we DO have relevancy, we do not have proper funding, staffing, or support. That's why I think it's so important for misconceptions about libraries to be quashed. I think libraries are perceived as easy targets, and are susceptible to the laziest kind of journalism — the kind that makes the reader think that the person reporting hasn't even stepped FOOT into a library in a long, long time. What people need to realize, and what the media (and, perhaps, librarians ourselves) has failed to do is effectively communicate that librarians have been evolving all along." Later, she pointed me to this piece in today's New York Times, calling it "an honest assessment of libraries."
Meanwhile, in his Journal article, Fletcher admits further down that maybe this whole new Extreme Library thing isn't all that extreme or new at all: "Public libraries have long served as gathering places and offered a range of nonliterary programs," and that those who said libraries would die "have been proved wrong," according to "historian Wayne Wiegand, emeritus professor of library and information studies at Florida State University." Libraries are doing what they've always been doing, but again, there are new toys to play around with. And as far as those library death rumors go, "Attendance at public library programs rose 29 percent from 2004 to 2010, as overall visits to libraries also rose, according to the most recent survey by the Institute of Museum and Library Services."