Monthly Archives: December 2010

A “Perfect Storm” Is Battering Libraries

“The Perfect Storm” phrase has become popular to describe a convergence of conditions that cause maximum destruction of whatever. It was popularized after the 1997 book by the same name by Sebastian Junger that described unique weather conditions that combined to create a deadly Nor’easter in October 1991 whose damage totaled $208 million with a confirmed death toll of twelve. Now whenever conditions appear similarly disastrous for something, it is referred to as a “perfect storm”. For example;

  • The Perfect Storm That Could Drown the Economy (NY Times, 2005)

    Poll Finds a ‘Perfect Storm’ of Voter Distrust in Government

    The Perfect Storm – Today’s economy creates favorable conditions for sale-leaseback sellers.

    Transport secretary says sorry after chaos of Scotland’s ‘perfect storm’

    Has the NCAA set the conditions for the Perfect Storm?

    Public Consulting Group Research – How to Avoid the Perfect Storm

    Pension Plan Sponsors Looking for Funding Relief from “Perfect Storm” Conditions

  • IMHO, there are “perfect storm” conditions at the front doors of libraries, threatening to devastate them.

    Technology – Advances in technology are faster than librarians can learn. When they do learn to use the technology, it takes time, talent and funds to apply them to a real world issue regarding library services to 21st Century customers. Technology is a bullet train with no stops that is affecting decisions regarding both services and collections.

    Customers – Changes in customers’ behavior are creating vastly diverse and somewhat unpredictable demands for library services. Technology literacy levels among library customers are vastly different and constantly evolving. Digital Native customers and Digital Fugitive customers are at opposite ends of the customer service spectrum, but both deserve excellent library services.

    Economy – The depressed economy that began two years ago has impacted library funding dramatically. No library system is immune to funding cuts, no matter how excellent the service or community support. Non-existent tax revenues can not fund libraries at the old levels, and trying to improve services and technology is nearly impossible with reduced funds that often are insufficient to even keep the doors open as long as before.

    Relevance – Due to all the other economic and day-to-day issues that also batter individuals, library supporters are disinterested in the survival of their local library. Too often librarians hear that dreaded question – “Why Are Libraries Needed?” Libraries are no longer the sacred cow that is untouchable, but merely another public service agency funded by diminished tax dollars that must fight to have its value to the community recognized.

    Library’s Role – Unfortunately, when external influences impact the librarian profession what usually happens is a procrastinated debate over the age-old issue – “What is the role of the library?” Some contend that the library’s role has never and will never change – providing equal access to uncensored information. Others contend that commercial organizations are far exceeding the library’s ability to fulfill that role, so libraries must adapt and re-invent themselves in order to remain relevant to their community. The uncertainty within the profession fosters no decisions, no actions and no direction, which results in the further devaluing of the library’s role.

    Library Education – Academia is slow to adopt new theories and techniques to incorporate into cutting edge curriculum for the profession. Therefore, librarianship education is well behind where it should be to provide MLS graduates with the latest strategies for implementing technology in library services, thus prolonging the lack of change and evolution within the profession.

    This “perfect storm” of combined external factors contributes to create a disastrous environment for libraries. Libraries are being battered and torn by these factors almost to the point of destruction. If one considers all the branch closings and cut backs in staff, services and hours, and for-profit companies managing public libraries, then the storm damage is severe. A forecast for better conditions is not in the near future.

    The reality is that in order to withstand the “perfect storm” that is attacking libraries, one should have boarded the windows (figuratively, not literally), stocked up on emergency supplies, and definitely learned how to swim.

    In other words, the solution to surviving this storm was in recognizing that it was coming, but very few did. Unfortunately, no early warning system existed (although in hindsight it definitely should). Libraries have to find their safe harbor – their niche in their community – and apply every safety measure they can find (technology, business acumen, innovative librarianship, advocacy, etc.) to weather this “perfect storm”.

    When the storm passes, will your library still be standing, or will it have to be rebuilt? Will your community have the desire and resources to rebuild? Will your community have confidence in you to rebuild, or will they question whether your inability to save the library was part of the problem?


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    As a follow-up to my previous Post today, I’ve come across two other examples of technology changes that demonstrate how the access of information will dramatically impact the 21st Century Library.

    NPR published Google Book Tool Tracks Cultural Change With Words on December 16 that reported “Perhaps the biggest collection of words ever assembled has just gone online: 500 billion of them”. Called, Google’s search tool provides interesting results in terms of word usage over centuries. “The Google Labs N-gram Viewer is the first tool of its kind, capable of precisely and rapidly quantifying cultural trends based on massive quantities of data.” [A-users-guide-to-culturomics] This is an example of data made available to EVERYONE to conduct their own primary research, and it does not exist in libraries!

    The significance of this to librarians is the “massive quantities of data” and the primary research issues. Google and others are developing computer databases that can and do store and manipulate MASSIVE quantities of data, which means that information is more readily available on more subjects than ever before IN HISTORY – NOT IN LIBRARIES!

    To support that computer databases are expanding research capabilities, on the Larry King Live program Saturday, the topic was The War Against Cancer, during which guest Michael Milken explained that cancer research is progressing at an exponential rate because of the massive quantities of data available to researchers. “Computers are a million times faster than they were 10 to 15 years ago. We have the computing capacity now to deal with numbers that we are dealing with number of cells, one trillion calculations a second. So we can test every single thing today. What we only could have dreamed of doing when I started working on cancer research more than 30 years ago, we can do today in an hour or an afternoon. It is a totally different world today.” [Emphasis added.]

    Imagine that every study of every kind that has been conducted within the past 10 years has been stored in databases in networked computers, and all that DATA is available to other computers to analyze. Is it anything other than expected that ALL INFORMATION ACCESS will continue to progress at a staggering rate? In my Post The Future of Librarians?, I related the story of IBM’s supercomputer that is “the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,”.

    Isn’t it obvious that technology has changed society dramatically, and that those changes dramatically affect the librarian profession in the way we provide access to information and services? LIBRARY CHANGE IS IMPERATIVE! SERIOUSLY!

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    For many months now one of my primary objectives has been to convince librarians (and anyone else reading this Blog) that technology advancements, education reform, and societal changes are impacting the librarian profession, and that change and innovation are imperative if libraries are to survive. There is hardly a day that goes by that the news doesn’t report some changes in one of those three factors that reinforces those assertions.

    Yesterday there were two (that I saw) on Fox News. Doctors Testing Warm, Beating Hearts in Transplant reported that doctors have developed a machine that will transport a donor heart at body temperature, with blood circulating and the heart muscle beating. If that’s not amazing, I’m not sure what is (at least for my generation). But the interesting part is that society is at the point where we’re saying, “Well, of course. DUH!” and thinking “That makes perfect sense. It’s about time.” That is a definitive indication that society has changed because now we expect innovation!

    The second story dealt with the US military testing smartphones, including “tablets, e-readers and even portable projectors”, on the battlefield. Smartphones Going Into Battle, Army Says reported that the military intends to give soldiers the strategic advantage, “What we’re doing is fundamentally changing how soldiers access knowledge, information, training content and operational data.” Again, this is a “no brainer” today, but it really is revolutionary in terms of real-time information on the battlefield.

    The implications of “changing how soldiers access knowledge, information, training content and operational data” are profound. Profound, not only in the benefits to soldiers in harms way, but because the military used to be one of the last sectors of our society to adopt change and new technology. In the 21st Century the military is much more innovative. There has always been an adage that the military is a reflection of society. If there is any truth to that, then society has changed the way it accesses and uses information!

    If the military can figure out ways to apply new technology to its mission, are libraries going to lag behind even the military in adopting technology? Isn’t it obvious that society has changed dramatically, and that those changes dramatically affect the librarian profession in the way we provide access to information and services? LIBRARY CHANGE IS IMPERATIVE!

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    21st Century Librarianship Reading List

    I ran across this list among my resources, and it reminded me that I had not shared it with you readers. So here it is. I must admit that I have not read ALL of these references, but they come highly recommended. (Please forgive my abuse of the APA citation format.)

    General Information

    Hale, M. (1991). Library and Information Science Research: Perspectives and strategies for Improvement, “Paradigm Shift in Library and Information Science”. Eds. Charles R. McClure and Peter Hernon. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corp.

    Prensky, M. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) Retrieved from:

    Trilling, Bernie, & Fadel, Charles. (2009). 21st century skills: Learning for life in our times. Jossey-Bass.

    Learning vs. Teaching

    Barr, R. B. & Tagg, J. (1995, November/December). From teaching to learning: a new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, 27(6), 13-25.

    Burger, M. (2006). In defense of lecturing. Change, 38(6), 30. Retrieved from

    Grassian, E. & Kaplowitz, J. (2009) Information Literary Instruction: Theory and Practice. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman.

    Hansen, E. J. & Stephens, J. A. (2000). The ethics of learner-centered education: Dynamics that impede the process. Change, 33, 41-47.

    21st Century Patrons

    Bengston, V.L, Biblarz, T.J. & Roberts, R.E.L. (2002). How families still matter : A longitudinal study of youth in two generations. New York: Cambridge University Press

    Gardner, S. & Eng, S. (2005). What students want: Generation Y and the changing function of the academic library. Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 405-420.

    Hand, M (2005). The people’s network: Self-education and empowerment in the public library. Information, Communication & Society, 8(3), 368-393.

    Small, G. & Vorgin, G. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind. New York: HarperCollins.

    Smith, J.W. & Clurman, A. (2007) Generation ageless: how baby boomers are changing the way we live today … and they’re just getting started. New York: HarperCollins.

    Librarianship in an information society

    Cassell, K. A. and U. Hiremath (2009) Reference and Information Service in the 21st Century, 2nd ed. (Neal-Schuman).

    Dudden, Rosalind. (2007). Using Benchmarking, Needs Assessment, Quality Improvement, Outcome Measurement, and Library Standards, New York: Neal-Schuman, pp 19-56.

    Reich, J. (2009, Saturday, July 11). In schools, a fire wall that works too well. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

    Random, R. ( ) Librarianship in the Information Age: Do We Need Librarians? Retrieved from:

    Schull, D. (2004). The civic library: A model for 21st century participation. Advances in Librarianship, 28. 55-81.

    Schiff, S. (2006). Know it all: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise? The New Yorker, 36-43. Retrieved from:

    Harold, K. (2001, Spring). Librarianship and the philosophy of information, Library Philosophy and Practice: Volume 3, no. 2 ISSN 1522-0222 Retrieved from:

    Hiller, S & Self, J. (2004). “From measurement to management: using data wisely for planning and decision-making.” Library Trends, 53(1): 129-155.

    Library and Information Professionals

    Agade, J. (1996, December). Information professionals in a globally networked society: an agenda for social skills. FID News Bulletin, 46(12).

    Allison, M. & Kaye, J. (2005). Strategic planning for nonprofit organizations: A practical guide and workbook. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    Ebbinghouse, C. (2002). Library outsourcing: A new look. Searcher, 10(4), 63-68.

    Thomas, N. P. (2004). Information literacy and information skills instruction: Applying research to practice in the school media center. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

    Sheketoff, E. (2009). Stimulate your library: Local use of federal funds. American Libraries, 26-27.

    21st Century Society

    Cassell, K. A. and U. Hiremath (2009) Reference and Information Service in the 21st Century, 2nd ed. (Neal-Schuman).

    Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    McLeod, K. (2007). Freedom of expression: Resistance and repression in the age of intellectual property. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Please let me know what resources are missing from this list!


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    Harvard University Libraries – More Business-like? Absolutely!

    According to a Library article, Harvard Libraries will undergo a “structural design” change and be overseen by a single library board, the University announced on December 1.

    “We want our patrons to be able to find anything at Harvard, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a digital copy of a journal, whether it’s a database, or whether it’s an object in one of our museums,” Provost Steven Hyman told the Harvard Gazette.

    … the Task Force’s charge was “to recommend reforms that would allow the libraries to invest their resources more heavily in academic priorities,” and determined that the libraries would have to “move away from their fragmented and outmoded administrative and financial model.” It recommended a shared administrative infrastructure, enhanced IT systems, coordinated collections development, and more collaboration with other universities.

    [Emphasis added.]

    As previously Posted, “The Library Rebooted”, published at Booz & Company website strategy+business by Scott Corwin, Elisabeth Hartley & Harry Hawkes, is an eye-opening examination of how libraries can remain relevant in this new era by redefining the business they are in. Information expert Stephen Abram Posted; “I heartily recommend [the article]. Even in an era when you can “Google” just about anything, many libraries have remained as vibrant, dynamic, and popular as ever. They’re staying that way by redefining the business they’re in.”

    Endorsements for changing the way libraries do business in the 21st Century don’t come much higher than Stephen Abram. Harvard University offers a second strong endorsement for libraries becoming more business-like (AND more collaborative).

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    Why Are Libraries Needed?

    On December 2, the Port Orchard (WA) Independent published a letter from a citizen who was tired of high taxes for public services he doesn’t use – especially the library. On December 3, LISNews picked it up as a “newsworthy” item (a decision I question along with Troll Bait who commented; “I don’t get why this one random letter to the editor got a place on LIS news. Yeah, some people think any services the government provides are a waste of tax payer money, this isn’t exactly newsworthy.”). Could it be that LISNews editors are struck by the persistent and annoying question that will not go away? Why are libraries needed?

    In my Post from November 4 (21st Century Librarianship – Part 1) I made the following statement;

    IMHO this is a painful admission … that ALA is not only NOT answering the question (otherwise it wouldn’t be constantly being asked), but that ALA’s “message” has not changed in over 100 years. My first ALA conference was in Chicago in 1995, and my last ALA conference was Washington, D.C. in 2007, and the session topics and general topics of conversation had not changed! In 12 years – NOTHING HAD CHANGED! STAGNATION!

    More than once I have asked in my Posts what the ALA has to say regarding the 21st Century Library. That is another question that will not go away. Where is the leadership for the most important issue in modern library history? When will ALA figure out the significant issues related to the 21st Century Library? When will ALA provide some answers, or even ideas? What can ALA offer to help libraries compete in the 21st Century? (Oh, I know – READ!)

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    Libraries Have Always Been About Learning?

    In an IMLS podcast in August, Acting Director Marsha L. Semmel spoke to 21st Century skills and what they mean to libraries and museums. I think she makes some good points and provides some good explanation, but I don’t totally agree with everything.

    From the transcript of the podcast;

    When we discuss the “21st Century Skills,” what do we mean? We are talking about learning and innovation skills like critical thinking, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration. We are talking about fluency in information, media and technology skills, the ability to analyze information and the ability to think critically about that information that is bombarding us from so many media sources every day. We’re talking about life and career skills like flexibility and adaptability, like initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills. And we’re also talking about some 21st century themes – themes that have to do with environmental literacy, health literacy, financial literacy and global awareness.

    Where did the 21st Century Skills movement come from? Really this is a national and international conversation that has arisen with the rise of the global economy, with the enabling of a whole new set of technologies that allow people to be connected in different ways, the need to understand non-routine, non-repetitive work and the need to be able to do that work. So the skills that are associated with doing those sorts of jobs have to do with innovation, problem solving, creativity, the mastery of the new information and communication technologies.

    This is a fair assessment and brief summary of 21st Century skills (small ‘s’). However, Semmel failed to acknowledge The Partnership for 21st Century Skills that began the 21st Century Skills (capital ‘S’) movement in American education in 2002. (See P21 History that includes a list of the founding partners.) P21 caused the “national and international conversation” that deliberately arose from people who saw the problems and offered solutions. In June 2009, P21 held a National Summit on 21st Century Skills (YouTube video below).
    Nothing about this 21st Century Skills movement has been spontaneous or haphazard.

    Where do libraries and museums fit in the 21st Century Skills movement? Libraries and museums have always been about education and learning. They have always provided important collections, powerful experiences and sources of knowledge and information. So libraries and museums have been evolving and changing to meet changing learning needs. They’ve been evolving from places that simply present knowledge and information to places that share knowledge and engage their communities and work with their communities to co-create experiences.

    Semmel’s notion that “Libraries and museums have always been about education and learning.” is presented as fact, but does anybody remember this point being stressed, or even suggested in their MLS program? I do not, and I’m certain I would remember. I think she’s getting libraries and museums confused and using the terms interchangeably (since that’s the business IMLS is in), or generically, which to me speaks to a lack of familiarity with libraries and their circumstances in this 21st Century skills movement. I’m not saying people don’t learn in a library, but I am saying that being all “about education and learning” seems more applicable to museums.

    The IMLS Initiative on Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills, which we’re also calling “Making the Learning Connection,” is really about positioning museums and libraries in this larger conversation that’s occurred in classrooms, in corporations, in workplaces, in government agencies as powerful places for learning 21st century skills and promoting the 21st century skills. Our project provides a portal, a website, a self-assessment tool and a community learning scanning document that provides information for people outside the museum and library field to know more about what museums and libraries can contribute to the 21st Century Skills movement, but provides valuable tools for people who work in museums and libraries to intentionally position their institutions to provide, promote, deliver these kinds of skills.

    If libraries have “always been about education and learning”, why is it that the IMLS initiative “is really about positioning museums and libraries in this larger conversation that’s occurred in classrooms, in corporations, in workplaces, in government agencies as powerful places for learning 21st century skills and promoting the 21st century skills.”? If libraries have “always been about education and learning”, wouldn’t we BE a major voice in the conversation “that’s [already] occurred”, rather than need to be positioned in it? And, would we need to convince the rest of the participants that libraries are “powerful places for learning 21st Century skills and promoting” them?

    However, I do agree that because we are just libraries, we do need to be positioned “in this larger conversation … and promoting the 21st century skills.” (small ‘s’). Because, libraries are not known as places of education and learning. I’ve been stating all along that school and academic librarians are miles ahead of public librarians in this effort, and in understanding 21st Century skills. But, that’s only by virtue of being a part of the education system, not because they are libraries. School libraries are still THE MOST vulnerable segment of the school system, and the first of the educational resources to be cut.

    Our point is that for a museum or a library to truly be a 21 century skills organization, they have to look across the entire scope of their organization. There are implications for who they hire, for how they present their programs and how they create their programs, for how they include different – and invite different communities and change their definitions of access, for how they demonstrate and define their accountability and measure their outcomes and for how they work in collaboration with a whole set of learning institutions that can range from the school system to the university system to the chamber of commerce to social service organizations and to various types of businesses.

    I also agree with Semmel’s assessment that “There are implications for who they hire, for how they present their programs and how they create their programs, for how they include … and invite different communities and change their definitions of access,”. We do need to change our definition of access, as well as work in collaboration with EVERY sector of our communities.

    Although, I think she’s treading on dangerous ground when she includes “who we hire” in her assessment. Considering fair hiring and anti-discrimination laws and unions, who libraries hire is not always an option, and encouraging any discriminatory hiring practices does not reflect well on our profession. However, how we educate and what LIS students learn to enter the librarian profession IS within our total control, and it should start NOW by teaching new librarians to understand 21st Century Skills, and how to incorporate them into library services and programs. WE HAVE TO!

    So taken as a whole, I think this podcast from IMLS was intended to stir peoples’ emotions regarding libraries and museums and 21st century skills, and less about providing a summary of the library’s place in a 21st Century Skills society. It’s great to see IMLS taking a leadership role on the issue.

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