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?

4 Comments

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

  1. Steve

    This library director is right in saying, “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.”

    I posted it on January 21, and was blasted for it, but I’ll say it again, “A “good” 21st Century Library is nothing more or less than a “good” 19th or 20th Century Library…one that’s forward thinking, in tune with its jurisdiction (even the fringe), studies the trends, keeps up with technology and collection materials (whatever the format).”

  2. If I may make an observation, I think the only opposition to your comment was toward the “nothing more or less than” portion. And, as everyone agreed, there is nothing easy or simple about running any library, in any century. Kudos to all those who do!

    While your assessment is ‘spot on’ as they say today, it is a bit simplistic in that I think there is a more complex synergy in the 1) forward thinking, 2) staying in tune, 3) trends, 4) technology, and 5) collection, than in previous centuries, and in regards to previous generations of patrons.

    I agree with Marc Prensky (Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, 2001) that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.” This makes for a whole new ballgame in my book, because it changes the parameters impacting the profession to the extent that “nothing more or less than a ‘good’ 19th or 20th Century Library” does not really work.

    Toffler’s quote about “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) has essentially capsulized the difference between now and then. I think that for the first time in history, the older generations are being driven by the younger generation to keep up, or drop out. When I was young, it seemed to me that we may have been pushing the older generations into progress by trying to gain their acceptance of that progress. It seems to me that Digital Natives are moving on with or without the rest of us.

  3. Juan Tomás Lee

    I agree: a 21st Century Library is much more than Library 2.0; for me, it is the convergence of traditional librarianship values, the coming-of-age of electronic information technologies, the increased sophistication in the demand of services, and the professional commitment to self-renewal with the objective of effectively meeting the information user’s needs in the time frame, place, and format of their choosing.

  4. Back in the 1970s I spent most of my days at Cornell at the John M. Olin graduate library in Ithaca. My wife worked there so even though I was an undergraduate, I had special privileges. I had my own carrel and access to the caged area that housed their renowned medieval Witchcraft Collection.

    I was at Olin the day when they wheeled in a piece of amazing 20th century technology– their first photocopy machine. It was a Xerox wet-process behemoth. The library was defined by its collections. The Library was silent. There was no Starbucks. It was strictly a monastic realm for study and contemplation.

    I contrast that experience to the John M. Olin library at Washington University in St. Louis. I haven’t been there, but here’s a video of it in the 21st century.

    The 20th century library is like a choreographed solo ballet: designed, fully engineered, planned, predictable, and personal.

    The 21st century library is like the flash mob: a work-in-progress, flexible, spontaneous, unpredictable, and communal.

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