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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3 responses to “21st Century Librarians create 21st Century Libraries

  1. KayDee

    What an interesting question!!

    While it may not be precisely on target…your questions caused my mind to wander down a path of thought…

    You ask where librarians can gain the knowledge they need to truly serve the digital patrons? The first thought that comes to my mind is one that is too often dismissed in our profession…The new Librarians. They ARE digital natives. We should be looking to them to lead us in this area. We should ask them for uncensored and courageous advice and ideas and then TAKE their suggestions and implement new programs and service.

    We boast freedom of information from the rooftop and renounce censorship at the same time our hallowed halls are often bastions of suppression in the name of tradition. We refuse to embrace the new until it has been tried and proven by others-often citing “fiscal responsibility with tax-payers monies”. And while yes, of course, abuse and waste is inappropriate, too often we exchange security and ease for innovation and vision.

    The knowledge base to lead us exists in our profession…the question becomes “Are we willing to follow?”

    For whatever reason, our profession (though many would argue to their last breath that it is untrue-and to them I say “take a hard look into the mirror because it’s most likely you I am talking about”) has a long standing history of suppression of new ideas, new thoughts, and new energy. It’s all well and good as long as its contained and controlled. However, as we face an ever more uncertain future, it is time to let loose the shackles we have placed on the young minds of our profession and see the heights to which they soar. One of the greatest times of growth and change in our country was when the Boomers came into their own and changed our social landscape with their new ideas and energy. Most were in their 20’s….

    Boomers–have you listened to your 20-something librarian lately?

    • Excellent observations! While my thinking fell short of your observation that librarians who are also Digital Natives themselves are (in some sense of the term) 21st Century Librarians, I can see that it has significant merit. I support your observations and recommendations.

  2. Pingback: 21st Century Skills, Libraries and Librarians « 21st Century Library Blog

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