The 21st Century Library Model


In the past few months my Posts have had a fairly negative slant regarding the future of libraries. That has been from a frustration over the past year of Blogging and reading, and the continued absence of any profession-wide conversation regarding the 21st Century Library. Other factors also played a part in that frustration, such as; watching the exponential growth of technology that is eroding the audience for traditional library services, the dramatic societal changes regarding adoption of technologies by generations of people who want “remote” access to the explosion of digital information NOW, the continued lack of 21st Century progressive curricula in SLIS, and mostly the polarization of the librarian profession regarding the need for change in the 21st Century.

2010 saw significant inroads into providing digital information by commercial interests (even assisted by institutions within our profession). Also, another year has passed when Generation Next youth progressed toward gaining information literacy skills that were once the exclusive skill of librarians that distinguished them as information professionals.

I believe all these factors and more constitute a serious threat to the survival of libraries and even librarianship in the 21st Century. However, there is a ray of hope that should provide 21st Century librarians with the kind of 21st Century information they need to begin to move forward to create their 21st Century Library.

It is an emerging 21st Century Library Model, which means it will not be static, and likely not be “completed”, for several reasons. First, and foremost is the constant evolution of the External Influences affecting libraries (described in some detail in the December 21 Post A “Perfect Storm” Is Battering Libraries). Second, as creative and innovative 21st Century librarians continue to develop ways to address those External Influences, there will be new information to share.

Also, as SLIS programs begin to address 21st Century librarianship issues, there will begin to be new research and information available. As time passes, successes and (unfortunately) failures in pursuit of the 21st Century Library will add to the “lessons learned” that are so important in advancing any profession into new environments.

If you were able to join a WebJunction webinar on January 18, you heard about how Glen Carbon Centennial Library, Glen Carbon, IL became the “Best Small Library in America 2010”, as judged by Library Journal. This bedroom community of St. Louis serves a community of under 25,000, with a collection of less than 50,000 items, in a nice facility of 14,000 sq. ft., but the LJ article reads like its a major metro library because of all the services and programs they provide. Their success is not just about being busy. It’s also the way they tackled the challenges, transformed their organization, dealt with their customer, and established their relevance to their community.

The point in this example is that libraries can become a “Best Library”, or 21st Century Library, without any model, through their own creativity, innovation, dedication and hard work. But those are the exceptions. (Synergy and serendipity also play a big part in that kind of success. Plus, Glen Carbon was runner-up in 2008 and committed themselves to win in 2010.) The rest of us need a model to prompt us to begin to change, develop and progress, to understand how the parts and pieces (both external and internal factors) interact and fit together, to describe what success looks like, and help us understand the vision we can achieve – all in a common context. Using a model as a researched framework for organizing our efforts helps us get started down that long, challenging but rewarding road to success.

Librarians who are interested in preserving their library, remaining relevant in their community, providing cutting-edge technology-based services to Gen Next customers, and evolving into a 21st Century Library, will select those elements of a 21st Century Library Model that appear to be helpful in implementing changes that they believe will direct them toward becoming a 21st Century Library. The 21st Century library customer is the focus of any 21st Century Library. Understanding the customer and providing 21st Century services using appropriate technology within more business-like processes will result in re-establishing the library as a core of the community.

“21st Century Librarians Create 21st Century Libraries”.

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