21st Century Library Issues – Revisited

One of my first posts on this Blog was about the issues facing libraries and librarians in this 21st Century digital society – the Information Age. The issues I listed then were these simple questions.

21st Century Library
What does it look like?
How is it different from yesterday’s library?
What does it offer?
What role does it fill in the community?
Who decides?
21st Century Librarianship
Is there a role for librarians in the 21st Century? What is it?
How are we different from and similar to yesterday’s librarians?
What do we do?
What role do we fill in the library?
21st Century Librarian Skills
What skills do we need?
How do we acquire the necessary skills?
21st Century Library Patrons
Who are they?
What do they need in library services?
What do they want in library services?
How do we attract them into the library?

After reading and responding to another blogger’s post yesterday, it now seems clear to me that I definitely over-simplified the issues.

Andy, at “Agnostic, Maybe” commented on the explosion of data and associated management issues in his post The Reports of Our Professional Death have been Greatly Exaggerated. Andy believes “This presents an emerging opportunity for information professionals (such as librarians) to shift gears in the way that they approach and treat information.”

My reply to Andy’s post included the following.

I certainly agree with you that; “… this new data world will need sherpas. And that should be us.” It should be us, but perhaps you might want to revise your headline from “Greatly” to “Somewhat” Exaggerated, when you consider the 21st Century Skills movement in education, and look closely at what elementary school kids are being taught regarding ICT (Information, Communications and Technology).
Access and Evaluate Information
•Access information efficiently (time) and effectively (sources)
•Evaluate information critically and competently
Use and Manage Information
•Use information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand
•Manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources
•Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

The American Association of School Librarians has published standards for school librarians to teach elementary school kids information literacy skills.

INDICATOR 1.1.5: “Evaluate information found in selected sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context.”
In the 2nd grade, this equates to “Recognize and use facts that answer specific questions. Interpret information represented in pictures, illustrations, and simple charts.”
In the 12th grade, this equates to: “Evaluate historical information for validity of interpretation, and scientific information for accuracy and reliability of data.
Recognize the social, cultural, or other context within which the information was created and explain the impact of context on interpreting the information.
Use consciously selected criteria to determine whether the information contradicts or verifies information from other sources.

Sound familiar? Like what you studied in your MLS graduate program? Being taught to elementary school kids!

It appears that librarians in the 21st Century have more to be concerned about than just the massiveness of data being generated, or about providing technology based services, or dealing with the diversity of patrons from “Traditionals” to “Digital Natives”. I think we need to be very concerned about the high level of information literacy that will be commonplace in another 10 years among the Digital Native library patrons, and society in general.

Don’t take me wrong, I have no concern over increased information literacy. In fact, I agree that it is a good thing for people and society to become better “users” of information. Nevertheless, my concern comes from how that increased and widespread information literacy impacts the librarian professional in 10 years.

Recognizing that we have been for many years dealing with the explosion of the Internet, and the multitude of automated tools for information access (OK, I’ll say it – Google), we finally realized that the Internet did not “totally” replace the librarian, as many of us feared 15 years ago. Librarians today at least still have a slim lead in the skills for evaluation of information, sources, accuracy, validity, value, bias, etc., and can therefore offer those services to the Digital Immigrant patrons, and some less well skilled Digital Natives.

That slim lead we hold in being the “experts” of information literacy, as far as the general public is concerned, appears to be coming to an end, based on the initiatives of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, AASL, and even business ( San José State University, School of Business Information Competency Initiative: “C.1.3.a: … The librarians in partnership with the business faculty will instruct students to define, locate, evaluate and organize this information.”)

This perspective of the future regarding information literacy certainly gives me more cause to pause to consider the future of librarianship, and the librarian’s role in that future, not to mention making the issues facing 21st Century Librarianship much more complex. I think we are talking survival here!


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3 responses to “21st Century Library Issues – Revisited

  1. Anne Rhodes

    I am currently a librarian working in a parochial school. for the past year I have been pushing our faculty and administrators to ad Information Literacy to our curriculum. If I read this correctly, I guess I should just keep quiet and make sure I can keep my job. I’d hate to teach a bunch of kids to do something and then have the my boss realize that they are better at it than I!

  2. Anne,
    That is certainly a natural reaction, but I know librarians are more interested in informing, serving and educating their patrons than in preserving their own job. I think what we must take from this concern is a serious discussion about “What does a 21st Century Librarian do?” If one of our main skills is made obsolete by patrons’ skills, how can we create a value-added service, and what does that look like?
    I think there needs to be much more dialog on this issue than there ever was on the “Internet replacing the reference librarian” issue.

  3. Pingback: 21st Century Skills & The Future of Libraries « 21st Century Library Blog

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