What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Mary Kay When you work in a public library you never know who’s going
to come through that door, you never know what questions
they are going to ask. One day, a young boy
who was eight or nine years old asked an unusual question. He’d been hanging out
in the library all summer. And he said, “I have an idea. I’d like to check out a room today. I’d like to check out a room
for the week as a matter of fact. I’ve been scoping the space out and you have a storyhour room
you are not using and a puppet, a stage that doesn’t seem to be used; then I’d like to put together
a puppet program for the kids and their families
on Friday afternoon. What do you think?” It’s an unusual question. And I couldn’t, I clicked through my mind as to, “Well, what could
possibly get wrong?” Seemed like an innocent enough question,
and I thought, OK, let’s go for it. So I said, “Yes, with two caveats. One, you just need
to check in and out with the staff so that they know where you are, and you need to pick up after yourself.” He did exactly that. He came in every afternoon, he set up the stage, he worked
on his project, with the puppets and on Friday afternoon, there were
signs handmade all over the library: “Puppet show. Two o’clock.” He gathered about 30 people
in the storyhour room, kids, and their moms, and their dads. He did a lovely puppet show.
The kids clapped, he was happy. I thought he was a star. Good idea. He left, and we didn’t see him
for a couple of weeks. Later that fall,
he came in on a Saturday. He came up to the desk,
and he brought his dad with him, and he said, “Today is my birthday,
and of all the places in the world, the place that I wanted to come
to the most was the library. I want to introduce you to my Dad.” And then he said, “But I have some news. We are going to be moving away,
my Dad got a job. We are moving out of the homeless shelter.
We have an apartment. And we are not going to be able
to come back to the library anymore. but I wanted
to say goodbye and thank you.” So as that boy and his dad left,
I had this big lump in my throat. Little did I know
that when he asked that question, how important it was for him
to have that space to create, to think,
to fulfill some dreams. He needed someone to have
the instinct to say yes, and I am so grateful that I did. He needed somebody to be on his side.
Isn’t that what we all need? Some people have questioned
the relevance of libraries today. All over the world, libraries are adapting
to meet their communities’ needs, and there are different
in different communities. In London, they’ve completely
rebranded libraries. They call them the “idea stores”, where people could come in,
have a cup of coffee, take a class, or shop for an idea. Libraries are becoming early responders. Last year, after Hurricane Sandy, the New York public libraries were
some of the first agencies to reopen after the hurricane. This is an image
of a Queen’s library branch in which, the day after Sandy happened – they didn’t have water,
they didn’t have electricity – they opened for their community to distribute food,
important supplies, and water. The same thing has happened
in Colorado lately. During our disasters,
the recent fires and floods, our libraries are there,
doing whatever our communities need. In Adams County, we were the poorest library system
for over 40 years. In 2006, our community voted
to increase our funding, and I’m ever so grateful because now, we have
seven brilliant lovely libraries that are places that people can come and do that dreaming
that they need to, that creating. We used the model of the treehouse as one of our points of inspiration. Because if you’ve ever built
a treehouse or a fort, you know that feeling
of being in that space, where you are in charge,
you have the power. You are in charge of the world, and you can do a dream
or become anything you want. That’s what happens in libraries. Over 100 years ago, the first
city librarian, John Cotton Dana, said the purpose of the public library is the pursuit of happiness first.
and education second. When those are your inspirations,
happiness and education, it’s all good. Libraries are places
where you can create and collaborate. We have tools to share,
like this 3D printer. You can learn how to do
digital photography, or you can make a video. This is our studio. One of our most important resources
are actually our staff. This is Moe, our studio guide. We think all of our staff are part wizard,
part genius, part explorer, and the work that they do everyday
changes people’s lives. Libraries are learning places. We used to rely on books for learning, but now we know that people
have different learning styles. That’s why we have
community gardens at our libraries. People come together
and they learn from each other, they work together, they show each other how to plant
and how to grow the best vegetables. They learn how to get along. We work with Denver Urban Gardens. Their mission is building community,
one garden at a time. Our community gardeners
get to know their neighbours, and that’s as important as knowing
how to grow those vegetables. At our library, everything
is one big experiment, and that’s why, when our facilities’ Director, Doug,
came in my office one day, and said, “Pam, I’d like to hire urban goats to come and mow our grass” (Laughter) I get all sorts of great questions, and my response is almost always yes. But, when 300 goats showed up (Laughter) at our library with
the goat herders for a week, we were in for a big surprise. We didn’t realize that this was going to
turn into one of our biggest experiences, the biggest learning experiences. Almost immediately, kids,
and their moms, and dads, and families started asking questions, like, “Tell me about
the goat’s digestive system,” “Can I pet the goat?”,
“Can I feed the goat?”, “What do goats eat?”,
“Where is the baby goat?” They pulled grass,
and they pulled our weeds – which was great, that was cheap labor – (Laughter) some families even went home,
pulled weeds from their yards, and then brought it back
to the library the next day. (Laughter) You can learn anything
if you make it playful. Libraries bring history to life, and that creates conversation. We recently brought in an exhibit
from the Holocaust Museum that was [“Fighting the Fires of Hate:
America and the Nazi Book Burnings”] And we wanted people
to talk about this, and interact, and so we had this question
as they left the library, and they could vote: would you risk jail time
to defend your favorite book? “Yes” or “no”. The questions actually
were just about even, and we listened to people
as they were leaving the library having this big family discussions about whether they would go
to jail over Harry Potter. (Laughter) In order to bring
additional context to the exhibit, we invited Walter Pulaski, he’s one of the ten surviving
Holocaust survivors in the state of Colorado,
he lives in Boulder. Walter shared his stories that night. He told us about how they survived
in the ghettos in Poland on 300 calories a day. And how his brother and he
spent time in Auschwitz and Dachau, and how they survived and escaped. At the end of his speech,
he left us with these words, “Don’t be an evil doer,
don’t be a bystander to evil.” As I said to Walter,
whereas people were leaving, “Isn’t this exhausting?” And Walter, in his typical Walter way,
said, “Who else is gonna do it?” (Laughter) This is his mission. Libraries are places
that support creativity, community, innovation,
and entrepreneurialism. We are the cornerstones of democracy. Everyone has a seat at the table, and we treat everyone
with the same respect and dignity, whether you are a millionaire, or whether you are that boy
who was homeless. So the next time somebody says to you,
“Why do we need a library?” I ask you to pause and reflect, and I hope you’ll think,
“Who else is gonna do this?” (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

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75 thoughts on “What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh”

  1. Tania Sheko says:

    A very important message brilliantly said.

  2. Rita Puig says:


  3. Chad Singer says:

    Lot's of great insights here! Libraries are so much than a place where you check out books!

  4. Patricia Williams says:

    A vital message brilliantly delivered!

  5. Jesus Jimenez says:

    I love library and librarians

  6. Smarter Thanawaffle says:

    Wow, Pam.  That was SO GOOD.  I found you because Anythink is looking for help, and I'm a reference librarian looking to return to the field after motherhood.  Thank you for being so smart, so articulate, so meaningful, and so funny.  You are the best that Library Science has to offer: part wizard, part genius, part explorer.

  7. Ellen Goldfinch says:

    What a wonderful way to explain the importance of public libraries.  Thank you, Sandlian!

  8. Kyle G says:

    As a librarian, this needs to be shown to every school administration because they are collectively turning heads against the program, thus shortchanging our student's future.  WE ARE THE HUB!  

    Note:  Not every administrator is against the library.  Our legitimacy is being tarnished.  Our worth is bigger than gold.

  9. sabuj kumar chaudhuri says:

    Unparalleled ,thought provoking and inspiring speech, indeed!!! I will surely recommend to all my Grad students to see this extraordinary speech. Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Carolyn McIntyre, LCSW-R says:

    READ MORE: Monday, January 26, 2015, The Library of the Future Envisioned- "The 21st Century Library". . . And Beyond- Questions Floating In Science Fiction's Crystal Ball

  11. Jori Nunes says:

    What a beautiful story filled with love and compassion. I am working on getting the book; Chocolate Flowers (a story for adults to predict sexual predators and children who have or are being abused) in libraries. Thank you for this inspirational video.

  12. Ana Godoy says:

    Legendas em português ou espanhol, por favor!

  13. chilloften says:

    It's just that they keep taking more and more of our hard earned money. Increasing taxes removed from my paycheck is an issue. Increasing property taxes is an issue.

  14. Elizabeth Pickering says:

    This was brilliant, and so encouraging as a graduate student pursuing my MLIS. Thank you, Pam!!

  15. Dr. Sudhir Nagarkar says:

    Thanks pam so inspirational speech

  16. Jonathan Bouligny says:

    I liked that a lot. Brilliant and thought provoking.

  17. Omima Ahmed says:


  18. Lumiere Rouge says:


  19. Glyph Jockey says:

    @chilloften: yeah. it's the library, not the 1% who's robbing you. Now I'll back off so you can live up to your name.

  20. Rebecca Alig says:

    I found this video to be very illuminating. As a graduate student who is pursuing an MLIS at UKY, I know that the validity of libraries has been a controversial issue for 25 years. In the early 1990's, Sacred Heart School only allowed enough funding for the library to be open twice a week. However, the president of Mount Saint Joseph University realizes that Archbishop Altar Library is the center for intellectual endeavors and technology. With respect to public libraries, they are often the only quiet place to study, particularly in underprivileged communities.

  21. Robert Wilber says:

    bravo !! we need more thinking like this f

  22. Magdianamy Carrillo says:

    Hillarious! Excellent Speech! Thank you! 🙂

  23. Perpustakaan RFID says:

    I don't like the way library become the abandon post office building

  24. Orianna Kongal-Hooijschuur says:

    this made me cry a lil'

  25. Muhumuza Medard Emmy says:

    This trend of library transformation from the traditional libraries due to ICT has really seen developing countries adapt to new technologies in disseminating information to their clients not forgetting online library insructions

  26. Matthew Gould says:

    its Matthew

  27. Inha Canlas says:


  28. Manp D says:

    awsum speech… the stry of tht boy was touchy..
    i love books n i love silence which equals to libry…
    its yrue libry is sumthng tht binds u with ur histry n future..
    was searchng for sumthng else but i am glad i found this…
    definatly worth watchng (only if u undrstnd wht libry actlly means n wht it holds)

  29. Cabh says:

    One of the best talks on the relevance of libraries. As a librarian, I try to spread the word that libraries are still essential to our communities. As a librarian, I hope I remember the story of the little boy and strive to be open and welcoming to everyone and there dreams no matter how small they may seem. I have seen to many people turn away with excuses – it's not our policy, it's not my responsibility, we don't do that here. Who else is going to do it?

  30. Michael Soo says:

    There is a lot even Academic libraries can learn from this talk. We need to keep an open mind to all the different ways you can learn, create and transfer information and not get caught up in all the wonders of new technology.

  31. Jan Goossenaerts says:

    Raising of sheep and goats ( #isic0144 ) and library activities ( #isic9101) ?
    Pam Sandlian Smith tells us how.

  32. Никита Петров says:

    libraries are changing because it is harder to inspire people to read and go to libraries nowadays

  33. AdorationChapel says:

    This video was toooo good.

  34. Néo Bourgeois Christum says:

    poor people problems
    his dad is a mercenary
    for a company.

    what does that
    have to do with
    high octane learning
    not sure.

  35. archiew says:

    This was great but she needs to get better at public speaking.

  36. Sara Latham says:

    I love this! This is why I want to be a librarian!

  37. Sara Latham says:

    Librarians as first responders. Wow!

  38. Happy Days says:

    I laughed, I cried! Two thumbs up! Best library speech on youtube! Thanks so much for this uplifting video.

  39. Bev Taylor says:

    When I'm asked exactly what I do, I can't fully answer. I can tell about checking books in and out, helping people find things, budgeting, cataloging–the normal known tasks. After that, I almost have to say, "I don't know." This wonderful librarian really gets it! What I "do" all depends upon what's happening, day to day.

  40. manoj kumar says:

    Simply superb

  41. Eclectic Reader says:

    I learn through books. Therefore, I cannot express delight in seeing libraries being converted into coffee shops and recreational centers.

    I personally feel that the splendor of the library is tall shelves containing massive books with pin-drop silence throughout the entire library, so one can take out their notebook and pencil and spend hours scribing notes; this experience is what makes a library joyful to me 🙂

  42. AGNES ADJABENG says:

    Yes, indeed you will never know the type of information coming from the reader and how to get the most relevant information available. I had to use a Report on Environmental Impact Assessment to get the information for a medical Doctor who requested for information on" Environmental psychology" .

  43. Nimyan says:

    This is the warmest video I've ever seen concerning 'digital humanities' so far. Not the most ambitious, exciting or mind-blowing one, but with most warmth in it.

  44. Pardomuan Ignasius says:

    library in indonesia is so worst 🙁 haha , even in the university.. they even dont have good wifi network ..

  45. Pardomuan Ignasius says:

    library in indonesia is so worst 🙁 haha , even in the university.. they even dont have good wifi network ..

  46. D Ramos says:

    I love libraries , Please never remove them they're a safe place to read in peace and perfect area to find new information and new discoveries inside such a vital brilliant area .

  47. 2203 Valentin says:

    awesome work! greetings from a fellow librarian. 🙂

  48. Jeansieguy says:

    Libraries are the poor man's university

  49. Jacky Jakosalem says:

    I like the idea of putting up coffee shop inside the Library in London, because there's so many people who love's drinking coffee while reading there favorite books they spend a lot of time to stay ther.i believe library is still exist because there's a lot of student who do not have an access to the internet, so they do their research in library. Having coffee shop inside the library is a ver brilliant idea.

  50. Ms. Control Gijibae says:

    We never know the exact role that a decision we make has in someone else's life. As librarians, we don't always realize how much the community relies on us to perpetuate an area of learning and cultivation for evolving minds. Sometimes an exact need of the community may not be visible, but always striving to provide new ways of learning can stimulate those around us to see beyond the tips of their noses to what is infinitely possible.

  51. Anoja Renuka Serasinghe says:


  52. jon ni says:

    i am librorian from Kyrgzstan))))))))

  53. kamvitrus says:

    Огромное спасибо за русские субтитры!

  54. circles in the night says:

    I love the library

  55. Marmalade Stex1591 says:

    Libraries have Changed!, They used to be Places where anything other than a Whisper would be Frowned on!, Now I have Observed/Heard Singing & Dancing by both Staff & Members/Users!, They have definitely become more of a Community Hub as i Observe Homeless People Resting/Sleeping in them!, Toilets sometimes are out of order because of people Blocking them Intentionally maybe by People with Mental Health Issues so The People Trying to Help these People are being Punished in Return!, Unfortunately Libraries usually have people who unfortunately Smell not too nice or Hygiene Issues probably due to Circumstances which usually leads to Staff & other Users Tolerating this out of Politeness!, I wish there was a way these people could actually be helped to have more pride in their Appearance & maybe Raise their Self-Esteem!, Mobile Phones are Answered quite Loudly and unashamedly by some Users even though there are signs asking otherwise, sometimes they are challenged by Staff & Sometimes not!, I observe Older People Struggling to come to Terms with the New Technology Supplied and in some Cases seem to Want/Prefer the Human Interraction!, Libraries have become a Must Visit for a lot of Jobseeker's who are expected to apply for a certain number of Jobs but cannot afford their own Computers due partly to their Benefit Allowance Frozen Despite having to Pay for Bills like Water & Gas/Electric along with Rent/Council Tax and needing to Feed & Clothe themselves and probably make a choice between Travel Price & Food!, I am just a below average Guy with Observations I have listed here!, Different Local Authorities seem to be trying to Naturally Cut Staff/Hours & Actual Libraries themselves or get Volunteers to do the Job Unpaid!, They have become a Crucial Part of Communities in so many ways!.

  56. Delene Gillen says:

    Great video – you are showing what all libraries can do! We need the space to create and dream! Thank you – very much needed!!!!!

  57. TransitBiker says:

    My girlfriend is a children's librarian. This just made my day, and i shared it with her to share with her fellow library staff. Thank you.

  58. JJ Tra says:

    Libraries are the greatest achievement of humanity. Visit one today and you will be better off.

  59. MeshTexture says:

    Replace the schools with libraries and parks

  60. Andi-Roo .at. TheWorldForRealz says:

    The library has been my go-to for just about everything, in childhood and adulthood; in poor times and in … Well, not rich, but less poor; in Depression and in joy; in parenting and empty nest. I love what libraries stand for: a free and stable society which cares for all its various peoples. I am so grateful to the heroes who work in this field, and hope to join their ranks when I'm able to go back to school.

  61. Fabiano Caruso says:

    Libraries are not about information… problem solved. Next?

  62. Yuh Boi says:

    Luv me sum lie🅱️Arry.

  63. SkipRogersJr says:

    I am very inspired and emotional after watching that video. Thank you for sharing!

  64. Elias Khidhr says:


  65. CHECHECHANNEL Chelsea says:

    libraries are my happy place. <3

  66. crazy tv says:

    i am gonna take up this course thats why i have come here..

  67. Toni Kemppainen says:

    Libraries should become educational centers. Like a store of sorts, which to plunder into. Music should actor as important. To shower in it.

  68. Terri Boyce says:

    I know my Library is ready when my students enter and their mouths drop open. Dozens of books on display, thounds lining the shelves, computers, magazine, comics, and audio books. Quiet reading spots, group areas, puppet theater, art center, building and puzzle tables, kitchen playset, reading buddy stuffed animals. The key is to provide for my student's needs to learn and interact whether they want a cozy reading spot to be alone, or a chance to share their own stories through play.

  69. whousay Iam says:

    Beautiful Ted Talk, my favourite by far!

  70. dan smol says:

    In my opinion, libraries in the digital age are useless. I did not visit a library for years and for the few projects that I did I only used the internet. If I need a book, I will better buy it. I use Amazon Kindle and it has an amazing amount of books. There is websites on the internet who are offering you books to read for free tough I do not use them. You can find anything on the internet if you search for it with determination and strong will. If I will have to do a project in the future and a teacher will ask me to use paper books on my subject I will just buy them and I will not step a foot in a library because it is a loss of time and is foolish. So my point is that libraries are not needed and anyone who thinks otherwise is stuck in the past.

  71. Valentina Dežić says:


  72. Phil says:

    Everyone thinks that you just have to get good grades to get into a good college. While this is true, you should also be aspiring to learn or create what makes you happy or fulfilled. You can be a complete ignoramus and earn a degree. Life long, passionate learners are the ones who can control their own fate and that of the world. I love the library and book stores. My girlfriend fears when we come upon a book shelf because I will read every single title for hours. I was never a straight A student, but my goodness I love learning.

  73. Afflictamine says:

    What did one librarian say to the other?

    Read more

  74. Niko942 says:

    Pam is overlooking one of the most important considerations. In order to improve libraries we need to eliminate publicly funded libraries and allow private libraries to take their place. This will vastly reduce costs, improve service and increase everyone's access to libraries.

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