Curation – A New 21st Century Librarianship Skill?


Curation is the act of individuals with a passion for a content area to find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what’s interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view–providing a reliable context for the content that they discover and organize.

So writes Expert Blogger Steven Rosenbaum in his Fast Company post last Monday – Content Curators Are The New Superheros Of The Web. He goes on to write that;

Yesterday, 250 million photos were uploaded to Facebook, 864,000 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube, and 294 BILLION emails were sent. And that’s not counting all the check-ins, friend requests, Yelp reviews and Amazon posts, and pins on Pintrest.

The volume of information being created is growing faster than your software is able to sort it out. As a result, you’re often unable to determine the difference between a fake LinkedIn friend request, and a picture from your best friend in college of his new baby. Even with good metadata, it’s still all “data”- whether raw unfiltered, or tagged and sourced, it’s all treated like another input to your digital inbox.

Rosenbaum’s description of curation struck me as a 21st Century version of the librarian’s historic role as the “gate keeper” of information. In 21st Century Librarianship vs. The 1876 Special Report, I wrote;

Librarians for too long have taken the “gate keeper” / “guide, philosopher, and friend” role too literally. And, although there seems to be no source for the attribution to Melvil Dewey that; “The librarian must be the librarian militant before he can be the librarian triumphant.”, my personal opinion is that, if Dewey said that, he was operating from the same premise expressed in the 1876 Report, and that “library militant” referred to dictating what people should read, along with an abundant amount of SHUSHing! Neither of which are compatible with 21st Century librarianship.

Our former role as information gatekeeper was traditionally the exclusive skill of librarianship, but it is eroding away under the flood of Millennial library patrons armed with advancing technology (with which they are already more competent than most librarians) who are becoming their own gate keeper. Librarianship has always been about facilitating access to information.

While I recognize that information is becoming too vast for the average individual to digest adequately, and that librarians still tend to be the “go to” person for many people seeking information, there is significant danger in the librarian attempting to hold tight to the old “gate keeper” role when they should be acting as facilitators. The old Chinese proverb (at least the Chinese get credit for this axiom) that “If you give a man a fish he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime.” is monumentally applicable to librarians today. Teaching library customers information literacy is as much a new role of 21st Century librarianship as developing business acumen.

So, my words of caution to 21st Century librarians is that we should tread lightly around this new 21st Century Librarianship skill of curation, lest it be our undoing.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Curation – A New 21st Century Librarianship Skill?

  1. I don’t understand your last comment – are you suggesting that librarians should not curate – or not teach curation skills?

    • Thanks for asking, since I apparently wasn’t clear.
      The point I was trying to make – if we try to regain our former role as information gatekeeper (that was traditionally the exclusive role of librarianship) through curation, we will fail. The 21st Century customer is not the patron from the 1876 Report era. Curation is a valid 21st Century librarianship skill, as long as it’s applied as just that curation – to consolidate information for the customer based on the customer’s needs – without filtering from the librarian.

  2. marytalley

    Yes! This is the first time I’ve read or heard opposition to the much touted role of data curator. Every time I hear it I cringe, thinking it puts us right back where we were. Our survival depends on becoming highly connected with our communities and networked among them, exposing our many skills to new situations and challenges – and evolving.

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