10 Replies to “A Call for a New Librarianship”

  1. I enjoyed your presentation on “New Librarianship,” Dave, but I’d like to try to pin you down on more specifics. Here’s a long-winded question to try to do this a bit:

    I remember once when I heard an academic library administrator basically argue that instead of trying to instruct users how to find information, librarians should be working to make all of their databases as easy to use as Google. That way, the users could find the information they need themselves. Here’s a thought experiment based on this idea: Google is a good database for finding information, and the better a database is, the better people can find the information they’re looking for on their own. Now, suppose Google and other databases get really good. Then, theoretically, people will be able to find the information they want and need without help. So here’s a claim: The upper limit of improving databases is basically the end of the need for librarians. My question to you is, what’s wrong with this claim (and maybe the assumption it’s based on)? I suspect you think it is very mistaken, but I’d like to have a better sense why you would think this.

    1. Great question and thought experiment. For me the answer comes in the distance between finding information and creating knowledge. Some feel that this is a little gap, easily bridged. In fact much of our current librarianship that focuses on artifacts follows these ideas. Get all of the stuff in the right palce and make it well organized, and knowledge sort of pops out. What’s amazing to me is that more librarians who hold this belief haven’t put two and two together to see the wall they are heading towards. YOu also see this in David Weinberge’s ideas around the commoditization of information ideas. This is certainly a major push behind Google’s and the search engine’s work.

      However, I think that the divide between finding information and knowledge creation can be pretty vast. In fact, as you add more and more information it may well get wider. What’s more, besides the real problems in defining information, there is always effort in knowledge creation and sense making that can’t be discounted. There is also a larger set of factors needed for learning than access to information (we don’t teach kids to read by having them sleep on top of books) like motivation, a safe environment that must be attended to. These factors need attention and professionalism and human contact. Not all questions, not all members, but for some, and as the questions we seek to answer get more complex, for more and more people.

      It is in this gap that I see the future of librarians. It is in the gap exposed by better and better searching tools. It is the gap the widens as the easy answers fall away, and people come to expect more. If librarians focus on access to information, then they become secondary to the information and artifacts. As they focus on the process of learning and understanding, they become more important.

      I fear this wasn’t specific enough, so feel free to call me on that.

  2. Thanks once again for getting me thinking Dave. As I’ve probably said before, our ideas for what librarians need to be doing now and in the days to come have some commonalities – especially the part where you talk about it being about “us” – not the stuff – and that websites have to promote the people – not the content.

    Here’s what I wrote in my essay on how library websites need to change in my essay that appeared at Inside Higher Ed – exactly one year ago:

    Rather than attempting to mimic search engines academic librarians should aim to differentiate their Web sites. They should devote the most eye-catching space to information that promotes the people who work at the library, the services they provide and the community activities that anchor the library’s place as the social, cultural and intellectual center of campus. That shifts the focus from content to service and from information to people. Academic libraries must promote their human side. The library portal experience should emphasize the value of and invite stronger relationships with faculty and students. That means going beyond offering a commodity that, by and large, the user community can well access without the Web site. The next generation academic library Web site must leverage what academic librarians can do to help faculty and students improve their productivity and achieve success.

    I’m glad to say that my library is in the process of redesigning our site and we’ve dropped over 40 links that no one understood anyway and will have more visual content that emphasizes who we are and what we do for people.


  3. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Dave. It still strikes me as a bit abstract (i.e. light on specifics), but we don’t want to push this too hard. But if you could, I’d appreciate it if you would consider a related issue, one that I always think is interesting in the context of pondering the future of librarianship, and that is the issue of librarian education. Considering your vision for the future of librarians, what changes would you recommend for the education of librarians, what types of courses or issues should they be focusing on in library schools, etc.? Sometimes getting a sense of how you think librarians should be educated helps one to zero in on what you think the future role of librarians should be. Thanks in advance, Dave.

    1. A big issue and one I’ve thought a lot about. I’ll give you some big themes:

      1. Every class should have a practica component (real linkage to practice and real projects) and a symposia component (tying this into deep concepts and looking beyond current practice and apprenticeships). This also means a lot more co-learning in teh classroom with professor and student learning together about new ideas, technologies, and concepts.

      2. Mediation, learning theory, and change management should be core to the curriculum. Change management is not the same as leadership, that is too often framed as grand visions of the future plus technology. Change management is a set of real political skills to build support and networks. We need to use LIS education to prepare radical change agents.

      3. Technology skills, specifically web building and database skills are essential. We can talk about classification all we want, but to make them useful you need to be able to implement information organization systems.

      4. In the longer term I believe we need to dramatically expand the educational ladder. In formal education we need to bring back bachelor degrees in information and instructional design, then have the masters curriculum that concentrates on planning and management, and then an executive doctorate for administration and deep concepts. On the professional side we need a coordinated and continuous educational system. Rather than begging for conference money, and then blindly picking sessions, we should have some sense of a larger continuing education curriculum.

  4. Wanted to share with you what I said about your program to my school library media students:

    I was asked by a student in this class or another what I thought about this presentation. http://t09.34d.myftpupload.com/rdlankes/blog/?p=944 It is a really good half hour professional development activity.

    I gave a totally inadequate response to the question. What did I think about it? I thought a lot about it.

    First thought: He is right, there is no reason why all librarians are not talking to each other. Some of my best brainstorming sessions were with librarians from multi-type libraries. We should understand each other and work collaboratively. We are all after the same goal.

    Second Thought: Are we more than brick and mortar? For some librarians it is all about their facility and their collection. But the reality is our job is information literacy, knowledge building, facilitating learning. These things can take place in every room of the school building. Successful school librarians are those who don’t hide behind their desks or in their offices. Successful librarians are those who meet and greet and say “how can I help you?” Think the really good Walmart Greeter.

    Third Thought: What would happen if the physical school library didn’t exist? Everything was digital and print on demand. We could get overnight delivery from the public library or a book warehouse. $10 per child per year to access all the learning resource you could need – print, digital, audio, video, and any other format you could think of. It is a good deal. We have talked about resource sharing for years. Some states do a fair job of it. Most don’t. What then would be our role? See no. 2. We would be freed of the clerical work and roam the school helping, co teaching, researching, coaching.

    Someone is really going to do this, because it makes sense.

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