Daily Archives: November 9, 2010

21st Century Librarianship – Part 3, Relevance

Determine your relevance to your community.


Keeping in mind that “21st Century Librarians Create 21st Century Libraries” – How can librarians retain their relevance to their community in the Digital Age? What role do librarians have in the 21st Century? How do librarians provide services to compete with Google, Amazon and mobile information technologies? How will librarians attract highly information literate customers?

Some believe “relevance” is through superior customer service.
Mark Bernstein wrote for American Association of Law Libraries Spectrum Magazine in November, 2008, “Am I Obsolete? How customer service principles ensure the library’s relevance.” He wrote;

Without the service mission and the people who provide that service, the library is nothing more than a warehouse. As service organizations, libraries must adapt, evolve, and change as users continue to learn to use new tools and ways to communicate and receive information. Service is what will allow libraries to not only survive, but thrive.

Some do not.
AgnosticMaybe Andy in his October 11, 2010 Blog Post “Customer Service is NOT Advocacy” made a pretty convincing argument that “customer service” is not going to save libraries, i.e., make them relevant! “The terms “advocacy” and “customer service” are not synonyms nor share the same definition nor are interchangeable. Libraries will not remain open because the staff in the library were nice or friendly to their patrons. No decision maker will be swayed by such proclamations of good care by staff. What is required is the ability of the patron to demonstrate the value of the library to them. Customer service is just the fancy frame that encompasses the importance that the library holds in the life of the patron.”

Since I have cited Andy’s opinion more than a couple of times now, IMHO Mr. Bernstein is beating a worn out drum, using old rhetoric and only slightly dusted off librarianship principles attempting to make a case. Nothing new in his outline of customer service, and nothing related to making a 21st Century Library relevant. But for 20th Century libraries – ABSOLUTELY!

Some believe “relevance” is through providing equal access.

Todd Dorman, writing for the TheGazette.Com, “Relevance of Libraries” stated his case for Iowa by stating;

Earlier this month [October, 2009], the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released a sweeping report titled “Informing Communities — Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” It argues that the health of America’s democracy and communities rests on plugging troubling gaps between the nation’s information haves and have-nots. Access to broadband Internet, for example, is a luxury for most low-income households. And that access gap leaves many on the political, social and economic sidelines.

Some believe “relevance” is through technology.

I’ve recently spotlighted Michael Porter’s presentation “Gadget Checklist 2010 for WebJunction, that included Peripherals, Mobile Devices, and E-Books and Digital Audio Books. The session is archived at http://www.webjunction.org/mobile-devices/-/articles/content/106452201, and reviewed at my Post of October 12, “21st Century Libraries Include “Gadget” Technology”.

Some believe “relevance” is through re-defining the mission and roll of the library in the 21st Century.

In my Post of August 26, 21st Century Skills & The Future of Libraries, I made a lengthy case for this approach to reinforcing the relevance of the library. [Please pardon my bias as I remove the numerous “and museums” from the quote.]

… 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 … and their communities is at a critical intersection. There has never been a greater need for libraries … to work with other organizations in effectively serving our communities; there has never been a more rapid period of change affecting … 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 … to act as leaders for positive change and collaboration. Our libraries … 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 … 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 … [libraries] and other stakeholders to help every community embrace its 21st century challenges with enthusiasm and confidence.”

Relevance through:
>New strategic direction
>New programs and strategies to help individuals meet the new and more demanding challenges of 21st century life
>Create meaningful collaborations and lasting partnerships
>Support the development of your customers’ 21st century skills
>Respond to and embrace the 21st Century challenges

What other skills / knowledge would you recommend for 21st Century Librarianship?

More to come…………………
Next up: 21st Century Librarianship – Part 4:

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