Daily Archives: January 26, 2010

21st Century Librarians create 21st Century Libraries


The subject of a definition of 21st Century librarianship came up, and caused me to realize (DUH!) that librarians are the ones who create libraries, so 21st Century Librarians create 21st Century Libraries. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of opinion about what 21st Century librarianship is, or should be, at least not one that I have found. A site search of the Public Library Association website (a division of ALA no less) using the term “21st century” resulted in two hits: 2009 PLA Spring Symposium, and Public Librarians Talk About the Profession. NOTHING related to 21st Century librarianship! Although, in all fairness, a search using the term “library 2.0” resulted in 53 hits, but only three had the words “library” and “2.0” adjacent, and the 2.0 was as likely to be associated with the term “Web” as “library”. Go figure!

Traditionally, librarianship has always been about facilitating acquisition of information. But, that presumed that librarians were the experts in the acquisition, evaluation and dissemination of information. When one considers the “Millennial” patron – the “Digital Native” patron – nearly all 60+ million of them have grown up acquiring information digitally (of good, bad or indifferent quality). So, what do they need from libraries or librarians? (Not intended to be a rhetorical question.) Now that the 21st Century Skills movement is taking hold in public education, these Digital Natives will be taught “Information Literacy” (“Accessing information efficiently and effectively, evaluating information critically and competently and using information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand. Possessing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information.”)

Ten years into the 21st Century, public libraries are still predominantly providing “traditional” library services for the “Great Generation” patrons and toddlers who make up a large segment of our users. We also provide services for “Traditional” patrons, the 76 million “Baby Boomers” many of whom are “Digital Immigrants” (those born before the digital revolution, but embracing technology as part of their life) who may need help acquiring information in a digital world. What can/should 21st Century librarians do for them?

Where does this broad spectrum of patrons fit within the “library service response” framework? Does it? Do we need to revise that framework? How do we span the broad spectrum of services from traditional to digital to meet the needs of these diverse patrons? Do we? Should we? How do we, as a profession, transition from library-centered services to patron-centered services? What do we need to know, and where do we get the knowledge?

Somewhat dishearteningly, authors John Mullins and Margaret Linehan reported in an article, Senior public librarians looking to the future, in New Library World Journal in 2006, that: “Half of the contributors to the current study articulated that their five-year vision would include the maintenance and development of the core services in which they were already engaged together with introducing innovative expansion of services. Of the respondents, 90 per cent expressed optimism for the survival of public library services through the middle of the twenty-first century.” The survey encompassed a total of 30 in-depth interviews with senior public librarians in Ireland, the UK and the USA. AMAZING!!

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