Is It Time for a Second Edition of the Atlas?

Greetings Readers and users of the Atlas of New Librarianship, I need your thoughts. Next year is the 10th anniversary of its publishing. I’ve been talking with my editor at MIT Press and have a couple of options.

1. Ignore it.
2. Write a new foreword and perhaps a nice on the cover, or 
3. Develop a second edition.

And here’s where I need your honest input.

A second edition would be a lot of work (it would have to be submitted by the end of the summer), but would it be useful, particularly with the New Librarianship Field Guide out there now? I know some of you use the Atlas for classes, so I am really interested in your opinion.

The “New Normal” Agenda for Librarianship

This week the scheduled Real Time sessions ended at librarian.SUPPORT. While it wasn’t intended to, the series of discussions and presentations really sparked some ideas for libraries moving forward. I suppose it was inevitable as we started with Matt Finch talking about scenario and foresight planning. On the Real Time session with Sari Feldman, Hallie Rich, and Galen Schuerlin we talked about advocacy and connecting to communities in a time of pandemic. As part of that we had a little discussion of the phrase “The New Normal.” It’s a phrase that’s right up there with “in trying times like these,” in the “speed to cliché.”

We were noting that it is almost always presented in a negative frame. That is the new normal is expressed as what we will lose – loss of jobs, loss of budget, loss of human contact, etc. But what if we looked at in the positive frame…what is it that we want to be normal after this pandemic? We all acknowledge that things are going to change, I feel an obligation and an urgency to shape that change.

What is our agenda as librarians and the libraries we run on behalf of our communities?

Before I list my proposed items for that agenda, I ask a favor: keep reading. I want to explain where these come from, but more importantly, why having an affirmative and proactive agenda for libraries is vital. This cannot be about trying to predict where things are going to shake out and then running to show our value in that world. It has to be about librarians fighting for social change based on our fundamental and enduring values. There is no doubt that the “how” of libraries will change. I feel now (prepare for another cliché) more than ever the “why cannot.”

I will also emphasize that this is an agenda for the impact libraries should seek collectively. That is, it is not an agenda for how we run or operate libraries (though there will be obvious impacts). This is an agenda for libraries to work toward for a new normal in our communities. How we get there (open access, improved working condition for library workers, new standards for library science education, etc.) is vital and important, but I feel separate.

As one example, we must lobby and work toward universal broadband. This comes from our enduring value of access to information. Yet the pandemic has shown us that the way libraries to this point have worked for universal access, that is by being internet points of connection with WiFi in our facilities or loaning out cellular hotspots is no longer enough. We have to leave our buildings and ensure real national resources and policy is in place so our provision of the internet in the library is completely irrelevant. A big change to how, but not to why.

So what do I see as an agenda for a New Normal that libraries must work toward?

  1. Universal Broadband: Sheltering at home and closing schools and libraries has demonstrated that the internet must be a utility and available to all. The digital divide is wide, unjust, and the damage it is causing in this pandemic age is only highlighting the ongoing damage lack of access has caused for decades to rural and low income families and citizens. Some things to work toward:
    1. Classify and regulate the internet as a utility
    2. Build out rural access to broadband, including transforming libraries into Internet Service Providers
    3. Remove data caps
    4. Restore network neutrality
  2. Workforce Development and Training: At no time in our history have so many people been out of work and the unemployment rate rivals the Great Depression. While we all hope that will change rapidly once lockdowns have been lifted (though that will take many months to complete) there is an acute need now to support people looking for jobs and re-skilling. Libraries must work with higher education, other government agencies, and the private sector to not only get people back to work, but help people find a place in a new knowledge economy.
    1. Deploy adult education services like high school equivalency
    2. Ensure certified school libraries in K-12 schools to ensure literacy skills needed for vocational education as well as college preparation
    3. Team with higher education to support online learners in physical spaces
    4. Provide single service access points to government workforce services
    5. Provide permanent addresses and registration services for social welfare programs
    6. Develop strong prison library services including transition to community connections
  3. Expanding Voter Access to Democratic Participation: Voting is crucial to a well-functioning democracy but is insufficient for a healthy democracy (representative or direct). Eligible citizens must have access to the ballot and access to information on the issues and candidates they are voting on. They must also have transparency in the working of government at all levels to ensure it is the will of the people (all the people) being carried out. Libraries should be a safe place for contentious debate, and facilitators of a community dialog about the future and greater good.
    1. Develop active voter registration and identification services
    2. Host public forums on key community issues
    3. Develop and maintain community strategic priorities
  4. Ensure the Health and Well Being of Our Communities: In the immediate future, librarians must be key partners to public health in developing contact tracing efforts. The goal of contact tracing shouldn’t just be about surveillance, it must be about service. Librarians have not only a background in collecting and organizing information, they do so in a principled way that values privacy and is devoted to service. Librarians have a trusted relationship with their communities. When someone is sick, it is not just about finding out who they have been in contact with, it is keeping them home which means access to food and the outside world. Libraries cannot only track the infected but provide comfort and support.In a longer-term libraries need to form tight partnerships with mental and physical health agencies to guide community members to needed resources.
    1. Provide service-oriented contact tracing services to town, county, and state health departments
    2. Form partnerships with physical and mental health services and partners
    3. Provide forums highlighting wellness programs and ensure such programs protect community privacy
  5. Essential Crisis Response Capacity: In hurricanes, flooding, and civil unrest libraries have provided vital services to communities (academic, school, public, special, all types of libraries). The same must be true in this pandemic where our buildings cannot be a refuge. This pandemic has shown that the essential things in a crisis are food, water, medicine, and information.
    1. Build in emergency provisions to the copyright law to allow for rapid research access to relevant scholarship on a crisis topic (virology for example) and continued education services to home bound citizens
    2. Build citizen information services that not only disseminate trustworthy information on a crisis, but verifies the information and provides community feedback to decision makers

A few notes on these goals before we proceed. Libraries cannot achieve these goals alone. They all require strong alliances with government, industry, not for profits, and citizen participation. These may be part of our New Normal Library Agenda, but they are for the betterment of communities, not advancing libraries. While these are not ideological, they are political, and we should not pretend to be neutral in our goals. The right and the left can argue about how we achieve universal broadband (government policy like eRate or market forces and competition), but we must demand practical approaches to getting it done. The market has gone so far in say universal broadband, but as we saw with rural electrification in the Great Depression, government has to step forward. Lastly, these need to be done in alignment with our professional ethics – striving for diversity and inclusion first and foremost.

Being Proactive

In 2014 I wrote a piece on the dangers of libraries, public libraries in particular, expanding their missions too far to meet the needs of a community. We can’t be a single institution making up for all the inadequacies and inequities of our communities or nation. Now, as when I wrote this, more and more government services are retreating from the public sphere. Physical offices and real people on the phone have been replaced by automated phone trees and websites. Libraries, in many cases, have stepped in to try and provide service.

Librarians now must answer questions on tax preparation, the census, employment support, and a host of government services. All too often we stretch tight resources ever farther, and risk being a place to answer all questions…poorly. We must partner and advocate to fill these gaps. To build strong partnerships, we must be clear on what we value and what we contribute.

Effective librarianship means acknowledging our strengths and what we bring to the table. It also means advocating for the well-being of our communities beyond our doors and functions. Health information is not just the role of medical librarians, it is the role of the library to bring the health department with community health advocates. Why health and not just focus on “knowledge and learning?” Well, as is clear from Maslow’s hierarchy, people are not able to lean if they are scared, hungry, and sick. To ignore the need to keep people healthy, our mission on learning and community is hollow. Public libraries are not viable institutions if the community is unemployed and without taxes. We have seen this clearly in the English libraries where volunteer libraries have repeatedly demonstrated the need for professional librarians and real budgets. In effect to protect our self-interest, we must protect our communities.

Libraries can no longer pretend we are apart from the full spectrum of needs in the community, that we can remain neutral in the face of inequity that divides these communities, nor can we pretend that we can be the fabled savior acting alone to save communities…we are our communities. Librarians are citizens, voters are stewards of collections, experts are part of our true collection. To say we are about literacy and not partner with teachers means our dedication is to what we do, not what needs to be done from the perspective of the community. To say we are about community and only be a source of ebooks in a pandemic is hypocrisy. Yes, our fellow citizens need ebooks, but they need compassion, connection, and community dedicated to their full well-being.

A new normal is coming. Will this new normal be founded on what we lost, or what we seek to gain?

In the dark ages of European history, people lived literally in the ruins of the Roman Empire. Every day as they sought to survive disease, famine, and violence they were reminded of what they no longer had. It paralyzed societal development. It took a renaissance that respected and learned from the past, but confidently (and yes arrogantly at times) was dedicated to moving forward.

Will our new normal be libraries half empty by social distancing, or community hubs that extend beyond our socially distanced footprint to the kitchens and living rooms of every one of our community members? Will we tell of the time when we provided internet access in our buildings to over 90% of US citizens, or will we tell the tales of how we won with our allies universal access for all? Will we wait for a vaccine as our staff gets furloughed, cars park in our parking lots for WiFi, and we endanger our most valuable assets, our staff, in curb side drop offs? Or will we partner with departments of health, technology companies, and foundations to ensure disease is tracked and the sick are cared for?

We must fight for a new normal with our collections, our buildings, but mostly, with our expertise. Librarians by title, by education, or by spirit must bring about a new normal that pushes ahead society. It must minister to those seeking meaning. It must support better decision making in the wake of this pandemic and in preparation for the next crisis. 

I am making this document available for comment on Google Docs to see if we as a community can refine and improve it. Please join the conversation at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1z4urUctLkAf7yYmQt5SOVf1tmJTnbmz2_BoXWms1KTA/edit?usp=sharing

Thank s to all who took the time to add comments. They are extremely helpful. I’ve turned off commenting for now so I can incorporate them into a version 2.

The Library as a Movement

A conversation between Marie Østergaard, Library Director Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark and R. David Lankes, Director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science on the idea that the library is a movement of communities members, librarians, politicians, partners and more.

If you would rather just listen, here’s an MP3 version.

Audio only of the conversation

Library Renaissance: Building the International Knowledge School

tl;dr version:

Two years ago I did a world tour where I talked about a librarianship based on knowledge and community engagement. I ended up doing a lot more listening than talking. I met amazing librarians, I found common cause, and ideas of how we all could work closer together. So, now it’s time to bring together those seeking a new librarianship into an emerging school of thought. We’re having a planning meeting in Florence, Italy on September 18th. If you are unable to join us in person, we will also be bringing in folks virtually. At that meeting a group of amazing librarians, library organizations, and partners will plan a sort of international progressive conference. Want to play?

Full Version:

There is an emerging school of thought around librarians, libraries, and their relationship to their communities. This school of thought seeks to go beyond data, materials, and information to knowledge, helping people make meaning in their lives, and focusing on communities making smarter decisions. A school of thought goes beyond a smattering of innovative services, or single lighthouse agencies. It is a comprehensive approach to a discipline that ties in theory and practice. The power of these schools of thought can be seen in architecture (modernism that transformed urban living with skyscrapers), economics (changing how countries see debt and how to build global financial marketplaces), to the arts (impressionism), and research (naturalistic inquiry, critical theory, postmodernism).

Right now, this new school of thought in librarianship can be seen in a FabLab driving through the Netherlands, an advocacy campaign in the United States focused on transformation, on new service models in the cities of Brazil, in an atlas of new librarianship, in the advocacy MOOCs of Canada, and a distributed digital library master’s degree in the European Union, and a new public square in Pistoia. It is being shaped in the field, the classroom, and the halls of academia. It is championed by an international cast of librarians, scholars, government workers, and library supporters. The work has resulted in numerous publications, videos, and Internet sites.

There is a loose and growing network of people across the globe working to push the field of librarianship forward. This network exists in email threads, Tweets, Facebook groups, and conference sidebar conversations. It is time to pull this network together, forge a common narrative for the future of libraries, and produce an actionable agenda to equip global change agents to enact new library service in communities across the face of the Earth. While this change will happen with and within existing associations, institutions, and agencies, there needs to for a separate conversation to share knowledge, tactics, and resources to make these changes possible.

To this end, I am proposing a series of national “inventories” leading to an international academy where delegates of the national events share and learn with colleagues to build a strong collaborative network. The shape and nature of this network will emerge from the process and is seen not as an organization or “place,” but rather as an inter-personal connection for projects, mentoring, and support. The ultimate goal of the network is to constitute the new school of thought around a librarianship of knowledge and meaning over materials and buildings. The ultimate goal of the school of thought, what in South Carolina we have been calling the Knowledge School, is to improve society through helping our communities make smarter decisions.

As you can see there are a lot of details to be worked out. However, we already have a number of resources developed from text books, to curricula, to project plans, to documentaries. We also have initial buy in of several international organizations. On September 18th we will be gathering (in person and virtually) in Florence, Italy to plan for the international events.

I’ll be keeping folks up to date here as details and concrete plans emerge.

If you and/or your organization are interested in helping organize this endeavor let me know: rdlankes@mailbox.sc.edu

Hearst awards major grant to College of Information and Communications

Hearst awards major grant to College of Information and Communications
Posted July 5, 2017
by Rebekah Friedman
Photo: Students, faculty and staff participate in South Carolina’s “Read-In” at the State House.

The College of Information and Communications has received a $100,000 Hearst Foundations grant to strengthen South Carolina communities through comprehensive literacy efforts.

The grant will fund the Community Based Literacy Initiative, a partnership between the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy (SCCCBL) and USC’s College of Education. The initiative builds upon work already being done by Cocky’s Reading Express, SCCCBL’s statewide outreach program.
Continue reading “Hearst awards major grant to College of Information and Communications”

Help Enhance South Carolina’s Emergency Response for Persons with Disabilities During and After a Crisis

Hurricane Matthew Survivors with Disabilities

Are you a survivor of Hurricane Matthew with a disability living in South Carolina?

If so, The University of South Carolina needs your input regarding your experiences during the Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent flooding. The information collected will not be identifiable and will be used to enhance South Carolina’s emergency response services for persons with disabilities during and after a crisis.

COMPLETE SURVEY HERE: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SCHurricaneDisability

If you have any questions or if you would like assistance (ie. have the survey read to you, alternative format, etc.) completing the survey, please contact Dr. Robert Dawson at 803-386-1711 or email at crisisawareness@gmail.com.

Fear of the Dark: Crafting a Security Narrative in Libraries

[tl;dr version: Rather than simply fight the current false dichotomy of security versus freedom, librarians should craft an alternative narrative around security through knowledge.]

We fear the unknown. It is a truism from fairy tales to military strategy. The other, the alien, the undefined sets people on edge. It is also apparent in the recent reaction to the Paris attacks and the attacks in Africa and the Middle East. It is leading to a dangerous and misguided narrative around migrants and Muslims.

For some this is a narrative built on racism. For some it is clearly fear-mongering for political gain. It ignores the facts (such as 18-24 month background checks-more review than any other entry point into our nation) and frankly ugly truths (a clear bias of one religious affiliation over another).

However while the “fear the Muslim” narrative is abhorrent and must be challenged for the good of the soul of this nation, I want to talk about a parallel narrative. It is one that librarians can have a powerful role in countering and in crafting an alternative narrative that ensures the values we hold as a profession. We must directly challenge the narrative of freedom versus security.

The security narrative flattens the complexity of preventing harm to citizens as a choice: give up some freedoms to ensure security. Give us (the government) your private information, your freedom of transport and right to assemble and we will take care of you. These freedoms, so goes the argument, are not really losses since if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. The narrative is a false dichotomy: it is either freedom or security.

The primary flaw in this narrative is the belief that security ONLY comes from restrictions of rights and freedoms. This is a misguided as the racist and reactionary belief that terrorism only comes from the Muslim faith, ignoring both the overwhelming number of Muslims that condemn violence and the terrorism perpetrated by Christians and other religions. Terrorism has nothing to do with a love of God, but of a hatred of our fellow man.

Librarians must craft a narrative of security through knowledge. Every day I work amongst Muslims and Buddhists, Christians and Jews, atheists and deists and I’m sure a bit of Wicca thrown in as well. I stand shoulder to shoulder with a diverse body of faculty staff and students every day. A large portion of our student body comes from India and China. We have students from the Middle East and the former Soviet Block. I stand without fear because we are all a part of a common community bound around knowledge.

Many will rightfully point out that this is a privileged community. In essence I stand with people able to afford and have access to higher education. It is a fair point. So I ask, instead of this invalidating my point, why not ensure equitable access to knowledge and learning to all as a way of countering hate, and insecurity.

Our libraries – school, academic, public, special, all libraries – should be platforms where communities can come together to learn, and learn side by side. Libraries should craft a narrative that says the most secure societies are ones that learn together. Stop watching who I call or what I buy, and start helping me to learn. Give me a stake in opportunity (in this nation and beyond), give me something to lose

Neighborhood watches shouldn’t be citizens looking out for strangers, but libraries working to introduce strangers and transform them into allies. Librarians can’t simply fight the surveillance state, they must model an alternative where openness of debate and ideas brings security. As librarians we shouldn’t be seen as simply obstructing the work of security, we should be seen as pillars of security through knowledge, learning, and community engagement. Library cards instead of ID cards. Databases of articles instead of databases of Muslims. In times of crisis libraries are places of refuge AND places that fight disinformation and paranoia with facts and research.

This is a constructive narrative that transcends political point of view or party. It is a narrative that says to our communities (towns, colleges, schools) we are keeping you safe by making you smarter. Dispelling the unknown, the dark woods, the other, the alien is a click and visit away. We are havens not to escape misinformation and fear, but havens from ignorance where you can embrace your fellow community members and build a strong diverse community.

I’m Looking for Doctoral Students

Come study with me…come help me change the world. Below is the recruitment announcement for Syracuse’s Ph.D. program. I am looking for good folks to come and work with me. It is increasingly vital that we have information scientists and new faculty in the field. Let me know if you are interested. I’d love to talk.


Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies welcomes applicants for our doctoral program. Admitted students are assured of at least four year’s funding (including summers) along with tuition and other support.

The interdisciplinary nature of our program is visible through the backgrounds of the 30 current doctoral students.  These students hail from ten countries and have academic training in the social sciences, communications, business, computer science, librarianship, linguistics, information science, and others areas.   Our doctoral program is a welcoming and inclusive place for scholars from under-represented populations, something we see as a defining element of our program.

Doctoral students pursue individualized course plans that are tuned to their particular research interests and needs.  This means advising and, more importantly, close working relationships with faculty members is a cornerstone of the Syracuse University iSchool Ph.D. program. This is why it is both residential and full-time.

We celebrate the success of our recent graduates who are taking up tenure-track positions in premier research institutions and exceptional liberal arts colleges, excelling in academic and policy think tanks, and pursuing entrepreneurial success! Current students are earning awards for their publications and dissertation work, continuing a long tradition of such recognition.

For 2016, we are particularly interested in speaking with applicants and seeing applications from those whose interests align with one or more of the following research areas

  • Text and data mining, Natural Language Processing and Information Retrieval
  • Computational social science, visualization, and data analytics
  • Agent-based modeling
  • Information policy, Internet governance, and telecommunications policy
  • Librarianship
  • Mobile computing
  • Data infrastructure and services in support of research
  • Organizational impacts of ICTs (e.g., Citizen Science, FLOSS, Wikipedia, mobile work, distributed scientific collaboration, and infrastructure studies)
  • Information security and privacy
  • Social computing, social media, social networks, and crowdsourcing
  • Wireless telecommunications policy and telecommunication service markets

You can learn more about the Syracuse iSchool faculty and interests at https://ischool.syr.edu/research/faculty-research-areas/

You can learn more about the doctoral program and application (due 3 January, 2016) at https://ischool.syr.edu/academics/graduate/doctoral/information-science-and-technology/

Please reach out to the faculty member whose interests draw you forward, the program director, Steve Sawyer, at ssawyer@syr.edu , or our program manager, Jennifer Barclay, at istphd@syr.edu with questions!

IMLS Funds Community Profile System

16826031270_745f4698b7_oWe’re aiming to take “The Community is the Collection” from slogan to reality with a new National Leadership Grant from IMLS.

Co-PIs: Yun Huang, R. David Lankes, Jian Qin

Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) is partnering with Coulter Library at Onondaga Community College (OCC) and Fayetteville Free Library (FFL – an Onondaga county public library) to respond to the National Leadership Grants for Libraries (NLG) Program, addressing IMLS’s Learning Spaces in Libraries priority. This project can best be summarized as: the community is the collection. We propose to design a Community Profile System to expand library collections to include human expertise, particularly in the STEM fields. This system will enable librarians to collect communities’ learning needs, identify relevant community experts, and link the resources to serve the learning needs in a cost-efficient manner. This 3-year project will accomplish four activities: 1) assess community members’ learning needs and identify community experts’ interests and their availability in participating different libraries’ services through survey and interview studies; 2) build data models that capture the various needs and dynamic people resources as collection; 3) develop a workflow by identifying librarians’ roles in data collection, organization, and validation; 4) prototype and implement the system with user interactions and privacy protection features, as well as evaluate the system prototype via a system pilot study and diverse test cases.

Link to IMLS Announcement