Daily Archives: August 26, 2010

21st Century Skills & The Future of Libraries

As I noted in the previous Post, school and academic librarians are making headway toward understanding and implementing changes in library services to retain their relevance (a term we all use to establish what we believe is the essential nature of librarianship) in the education world, based on their recognition of the coming education revolution. Public libraries are lagging behind in meeting the 21st Century challenges because they lack the same impetus – a vision of the 21st Century role and responsibility of the public library.

Apparently, public libraries are not keeping in touch with their profession, because just last fall the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) launched its 21st Century Skills initiatives with a 40 page report titled “Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills” [Citation: Institute of Museum and Library Services (2009). Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills (IMLS-2009- NAI-01). Washington, D.C.], in which the Institute provided this appeal to the library profession.

The relationship between libraries, museums, and their communities is at a critical intersection. There has never been a greater need for libraries and museums to work with other organizations in effectively serving our communities; there has never been a more rapid period of change affecting museums, libraries, and their communities; and there has never been a more challenging period of economic dislocation facing the people in our communities. As a result, there has never been a better opportunity for libraries and museums to act as leaders for positive change and collaboration. Our libraries and museums can and should seize the opportunity to position our institutions in light of these 21st century challenges.

“The Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills project is designed to help library and museum leaders play a catalytic role in this dialogue, if museums and libraries are prepared to take four critical steps.


    • Evaluate how its current mission aligns with the goal of helping the institution and community respond to the challenges of the 21st century;
    • Assess where the institution sits today on the continuum of supporting the development of its audiences’ 21st century skills;
    • Become increasingly embedded in the community in order to create lasting partnerships that address 21st century audience needs; and
    • Design new programs and strategies to help individuals meet the new and more demanding challenges of 21st century life.

The collective leadership of the museum and library community can play a major role in setting and implementing this new strategic direction. It is our hope that the conversations sparked by this report and tool will invigorate meaningful collaborations among cultural institutions and other stakeholders to help every community embrace its 21st century challenges with enthusiasm and confidence.”

The Institute’s website states; “The Institute’s Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills initiative underscores the critical role our nation’s museums and libraries play in helping citizens build such 21st century skills as information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy, and global awareness.”

Dr. Anne-Imelda M. Radice, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services, wrote in the IMLS 2010 publication The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide that, “… the delivery of library … services will be impacted by technology, education reform, and societal … changes …”
The challenges facing public libraries does not get much more succinct than that – technology, education reform, and societal changes.

Librarians have routinely faced technology change including everything from physical card catalogs to online digital catalogs, as well as societal changes from a more literate society after WWII to the Internet. BUT, the education reform being discussed and implemented in many areas of the US is a profound change that librarians have NEVER faced, and MUST NOT ignore! As I noted in my Post on March 18 ( 21st Century Library Issues – Revisited “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.”

Obviously, academia feels the same. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, A Division of the American Library Association) published Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education In 2025 in June 2010. The report addresses “a 15-year horizon [to] help academic and research librarians see beyond the worries of this budget cycle and the short-term future to consider, instead, what may happen further down the road, to better anticipate the changing context within which academic librarians will operate, and to make more informed strategic decisions.” “[I]t is not enough to know the current state; we must also know what will be valued in the future and draw implications so that librarians can begin to take appropriate action now.”

Executive Summary
For academic librarians seeking to demonstrate the value of their libraries to their parent institutions, it is important to understand not only the current climate. We must also know what will be valued in the future so that we can begin to take appropriate action now. [Pg. 3]

Using a scenario-based format to pose a multitude of collective visions regarding what the academic library’s future holds, the following proposed scenarios, with accompanying comments, represents some of the more relevant to this discussion.

Meet the new freshman class
With laptops in their hands since the age of 18-months old, students who are privileged socially and economically are completely fluent in digital media. For many others, the digital divide, parental unemployment, and the disruption of moving about during the foreclosure crisis of their formative years, means they never became tech savvy. “Remedial” computer and information literacy classes are now de rigueur.

“We can aid in bridging that gap – which already exists – by embedding librarians or library science students in the remediation classes, assisting in training these students to be excellent researchers and creators of digital media and participants in digital scholarly conversations.”

“This would possibly mean going back to the times when libraries had the most computers on campus because students didn’t have their own machines. Space considerations would become a concern.” [Pg. 15]

No need to search
Content aware software senses topics as we write and inserts high quality and vetted metadata, citations, and images. Students are media savvy, easily navigating platform to platform to manage visual data and text. They no longer need the skills of acquiring and evaluating information as machines do that work. Instead, they spend time on tasks of synthesis, analysis, and interpretation.

“Boy, I hope not. Not for my own job security, but the implications for redefining critically informed learning are huge! Who (or what) decides what information is relevant, accurate, etc. That skill (IMHO) has always been and should remain a part of what it means to be ‘educated.’”

“We already have the beginnings of such systems such as the recommendation systems found in Amazon and other online retailers. It seems a bit of a stretch to see this happening in more complex academic subjects, but it certainly seems possible since the computer processing power and communications infrastructure already exists. [Pg. 16]

Out of business
As information companies come to dominate the market – providing superior tools and services for students and faculty – the academic library is less visible and less necessary. With only a small user base remaining, colleges and universities outsource many of the remaining functions, as they did with meal service and bookstores earlier. In an era of endless abundance, the curation skills of librarians are still valuable, and they are employed at these companies.

“This is already happening in the corporate arena. If the library does not show value or ROI, they get cut. We need new metrics that show the value of the library vs. outsourcing. Sadly, money, money money.”

“Certain disciplines will really advocate for this not to happen. Some departments may ‘adopt’ librarians and have them join their departments to ensure they do not lose what they value. Disciplines where our particular brand of research skills are not valued probably will not use any outsourced services anyway, so some academic librarian specializations might be lost.” [Pg. 16]

I am still bewildered why Public Library Association (PLA, A Division of the American Library Association) is doing NOTHING related to 21st Century Skills. In fact, I challenge the reader to go to the PLA website and enter a site search for “21st century” and let me know the results. I found one obscure reference to the Spring 2009 Symposium program. PERIOD! There is NOTHING! NADA! ZIP! ZILCH! ZERO! related to 21st Century libraries or librarianship being addressed by PLA.

Point proven? Public libraries are FAR BEHIND in addressing 21st Century Library issues and challenges. Are we going to sit back and let IMLS lead the dialog? Who wants to help the public sector of the profession survive? Who wants to share their successes? Anybody out there from the public library sector? Helloooo?

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