[Conference Report] Reinvention: Thriving in the 21st Century

On November 4-6, the Mechanics’ Institute hosted 51 colleagues from Wales, Australia, Canada, England and the U.S. for the Reinvention Conference. Reinvention was the fourth in a series of international conferences for independent and subscription libraries, mechanics’ institutes, athenaeums, mercantile libraries, schools of arts, and working men’s institutes and the first one held in North America.

Our keynoters and speakers wowed us. Keynote speakers were:

  • Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive, who spoke about “Bringing Our Libraries Digital”
  • Lee Rainie, Director of Research at the Pew Research Center, who spoke about “The Reinvention Recipe: One Part Desperation. One Part Aggravation. One Part Decimation. One Part Liberation”
  • Nina Simon Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, who spoke about “The Art of Relevance”

We shared challenges, solutions and ideas for continuing to thrive, including grant research, rebranding for the future, disaster planning, analog libraries in a digital world, capital campaigns, measuring performance indicators, relevance and much more.

Sometimes we had to strain to understand accents, as we all spoke different flavors of the English language. We learned, with a bit of envy, that the Gladstone Library (in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales) is a “residential” library, with 26 bedrooms, which include access to the 250,000 items in the library and breakfast.

In another presentation, we learned that a former Mechanics’ Institute in Heptonstall, England, that is now a private residence, is on the market for £340,000 ($420,415), which sounds like a steal compared to the San Francisco Bay Area housing market!

All presentations are available online here: https://www.milibrary.org/reinvention/content/presenters

We at the Mechanics’ Institute learned a lot too about putting on a conference, including lodging, meals, and other logistics. Most of all, we learned that we are of the same tribe and are facing common challenges, being creative in overcoming them and that we can learn so much from one another.

Post submitted by Deb Hunt, Library Director at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco