Monthly Archives: April 2010

A 21st Century Library is NOT Library2.0: It’s More!


Yesterday, a library director colleague shared her experience at her state’s library association conference recently. I’ll quote her email (some things just can’t be expressed well in a Tweet).

“So as I sit in “mobile technology at your library”, I thought I would send you a quick note. I am finding the 21st century library tag to be pervasive in this conference. And no one has the slightest idea what it means. Nor are they trying to define it. It seems to BE defined by the technology. Twitter. Facebook. Texting. E-Reference. etc., rather than any particular service or part of the mission. It seems to be more the idea of “Look at all this cool stuff I get to play with at work. Now, how can I make it fit.”, if that makes sense. And, it isn’t that it isn’t useful, texting late notices is very useful. Twitter…ummmm. That’s a stretch.

But it seems discrimination is out the window. It’s all the bundle of technology or nothing. If you embrace it you are (be default) 21st century. If you don’t…well, you’re behind, or you must not get it. There is certainly a bit of the “Emperor’s new clothes” feel as I sit here (feeling confident in my own techsavvyness) watching these two 20-something IT MLS kids tell all the librarians how to Twitter. And, if they dare ask “Why?”, then they must not be able to see the Emperor’s clothes. So people have stopped asking why. At least that is my feel after two days. And, it could just be here. People want to think about anything but their budget. So maybe it is a bit of lala-land syndrome. “Twitter is more fun”, “Twitter makes me vital”, etc., and, of course, insert any technology in place of Twitter.”

Her frustration with balancing real world keeping the doors open vs. creating a 21st Century Library is heartfelt all over the profession right now. If there is no library to provide 21st Century library services, it’s kinda a moot issue.

Another colleague with a few decades in the trenches also provided some insight into the situation the director was experiencing. Here’s her text reply.

“Well tell the little twits that it’s not that hard to figure out, but you have to do it on a phone and old people can’t see the keys, and I think you have to have an iPhone or at least a Blackberry. Twittering is really just telling the whole world what you are doing hour to hour all day and night.

I have learned if nothing else that I don’t want anyone knowing my business let alone every time I go take a xxx, or have a nose bleed, etc…. From what I get that’s what it is to Twitter, you can only do 140 letters at a time, and it is all about being the one who Twitters and has the most followers or friends. I personally think it is reality TV on your phone.”

Reality TV on your phone! How awesome an observation is that! This Digital Native generation is also a product of reality TV. Do they remember TV before reality shows? Survivor. Big Brother. Kate & John-type shows, and a whole host of others on cable channels that most adults don’t even know exist. That is a total facet of their preferences that has never been addressed, as far as I know, but it certainly seems to have had an impact on them. Obviously, my friend from the trenches is not technology illiterate, but has a healthy skepticism of its application in library services.

This exchange brought up two issues that I wanted to address in this post.

First – 21st Century Library is NOT Library2.0 – It is much MORE! Library2.0 only encompasses the technology. 21st Century Library encompasses the application and integration of technology into library services, and developing technology skills among library staff for appropriate implementation in library services. It includes library policy, which includes Library Boards (in all public libraries anyway), and appropriate governance agents. As much fun as it is to play and experiment with technology, when it comes to making an impact on library services, that is not play. Every library director is painfully aware that whatever the library does has consequences. Application of technology has to have purpose and goals. Library2.0 is part of the strategic plan, not THE strategic plan.

Which brings me to my second observation.

Second – 21st Century Librarianship is NOT the domain of the GenY librarians coming into the profession, but maybe Library2.0 is. While they have tremendous skills, creativity and desire to contribute, they don’t always see their Library’s big picture into which their skills and ideas must fit. No organization can function well or for long with individuals going off in all directions that suit their personal interests. Individuals are a part of the whole organization, and every organization, in order to operate successfully, must operate as a total system with all its elements in sync. Library2.0 seems to have started out as play, and the GenY are certainly into that!

It would be very encouraging to see, read, or hear conversation about 21st Century Library in the broader vision than simply Library2.0. I think it’s time we evolve to the next level of progress beyond Library2.0 into 21st Century Library. How about you?

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21st Century Libraries are More: Customized


Alvin Toffler is often quoted as writing: “The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those that cannot read or write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (Forward, Rethinking the Future, 1999) There is much debate over the “unlearn” concept he proposed, whether that’s even possible, but I think it’s reasonable to recognize what Toffler meant (in his own futuristic manner) was what Mark Twain wrote way back in the 19th Century: “Two things seemed pretty apparent to me. One was, that in order to be a [river boat] pilot a man had got to learn more than any one man ought to be allowed to know; and the other was, that he must learn it all over again in a different way every twenty-four hours.” (Life on the Mississippi, 1883). When I came across this Twain quote, it seemed to me to be an apt description of today’s librarian. Actually, today’s everyman.

Change in technology and education and society and business and virtually everything is happening exponentially as all the “Did You Know?” videos are proclaiming. So here’s one that I think will demonstrate the point. (Don’t stop watching the one below before the end because you think you’ve seen it all before. Unless you’ve watched this video, you haven’t seen what’s happening exponentially in education. It comes after the 3 minute mark if you want to FFWD.)

What does this have to do with libraries? In my opinion, libraries are an essential part of the social fabric of America (and should be in every part of the world). But, the more society changes and the more rapidly it changes, the character of the library MUST also change in order to maintain that vital role it fills – FREE ACCESS TO INFORMATION for every citizen.

You say “OK, I agree. So what?”, and that should be the question on every librarian’s mind – So what? The answer to that question is the motivation for every step of progress for all of mankind’s history. Early man said to himself; “Dude, this firewood is really heavy and it’s a long way back to the cave.” So what? Viola’ – the wheel! (Odds are he didn’t actually exclaim – viola’, but you get the idea. Maybe he said eureka, who knows.) You think Gutenberg didn’t ask – So what? You think Bill Gates didn’t ask – So what? YBBI

I think the answer to “So what?” regarding libraries will lead to a more customized library for your community, or school, or university, or organization, or whomever you serve. (Re-read Getting deeply local at our libraries 2009 June 24 – Librarians Matter Blog by Kathryn Greenhill) In library history, the means of providing services were pretty standard for centuries – collect, organize, and make available “books”. In 21st Century libraries, the “collect” and “organize” services have become more difficult in many respects because of the technology, rapidly changing tools for doing so, and massive volume of information.

The inability to keep up with technology’s rapid change (and inability to influence it in any way) essentially causes librarians to focus more on the “make available” service – a primary core service. What you make available, how you make it available, when and where and all the other Ws of providing access to information are driven by your patrons’ needs, capabilities and interests.

So, in order to remain relevant and indispensable, librarians will customize their “make available” services to fit their patrons. In order to do that, librarians will learn, reassess, and relearn (I’m sure it will feel like you have to “learn it all over again in a different way every twenty-four hours”) how to navigate the muddy waters of 21st Century librarianship. AND, because the patrons you serve are unique to your community, so too will your services become unique to your library – more customized!

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21st Century Mindset


Based on earlier posts with a theme of the 21st Century Library is More, here is more on that topic.

CARE MORE than others think is WISE.

EXPECT MORE than others think is POSSIBLE.

RISK MORE than others think is SAFE.

DREAM MORE than others think is PRACTICAL.

I wish I could take credit for creating these thoughts, and would gladly give credit if I knew who did, but absolutely sentiments I totally endorse.

The only way for libraries to be more in the 21st Century is through this kind of thinking.

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