Monthly Archives: August 2011

Book Review: R. David Lankes – The Atlas of New Librarianship


This is a first for this Blog – a book review. But, I felt it was necessary because of the thesis that Lankes puts forth regarding the future of Librarianship, and the obvious impact his work will have on the profession. It is a good text book, and every serious librarian concerned about the future of their profession should read it. But, they should also question whether they buy-in to Lankes’ “worldview” of a “new librarianship”. I agree with much of what he writes, but I also have serious reservations about much of what he writes.

Lankes, R. (2011). The atlas of new librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. R. David Lankes is Associate Professor in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, and Director of its Library and Information Science Program. His main theme throughout the book is a new mission for librarians – “The Mission of Librarians is to improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities.” He has also created a companion website at “The Atlas of New Librarianship“.

This companion website serves 3 purposes:
1. As Companion to the Book: additional materials, extensions, and navigation tools are online and can be used to update content in the book and help you get the most out of the Atlas.
2. As Classroom: online videos, links, and activities help make the concepts of new librarianship real.
3. As Participatory Space: the Atlas is not complete, and will never be. New librarianship is a dynamic and expanding concept, and it requires your input.

He has attempted to make the book more graphical, but my assessment is that it simply transforms lists and hierarchy into images with links – which is a nice break from the traditional “text book” – but was used to an extreme so that it doesn’t really help the reader with better comprehension.

[A hierarchy by any other name would still be recognizable.]

One should rightly be impressed with Lankes’ resources for this book. “The Atlas is the result of more than 100,000 miles of travel to 29 locations on three continents, input from hundreds of librarians and professors from 14 accredited library programs, 25 formal presentations to more than 50 conferences, and 14 publications.” (pg. 2) In fact one should be so impressed as to not take exception with anything Lankes writes at all. I’m sure hundreds of students feel the same way. But, being the critical thinker that I am, I thought I’d take a chance, and raise some questions I hope will resonate with other library professionals. (Not to mention that the words of my major professor occasionally ring in my head; “Once you have your doctorate, you can teach anything just by reading a book.” I suspect that was an exaggeration, but it probably has a long lineage from one Ph.D. to the next.)

My first exception to Lankes’ perspective is that he seems limited in his assessment of the impact of the changes in the 21st Century that affect libraries. In “Finding A Center In The Dynamic” section (pg. 3) he writes; “Is today’s youth culture any more radical than the counterculture of the fabled 60s – or the beatnik generation?” Nowhere within his book did I read anything about the Millennial Generation, and how Digital Natives are becoming more technologically literate than any previous generation, more technologically literate than most librarians, or of the education reforms taking place that are making future generations even more information literate, or the impact of that paradigm shift on librarianship. His overall perspective seems to be “Don’t worry about the small stuff.” – the monumental changes in technology, education and society – and suggests that we should just “… look to the history of the field for the core and constant while looking to even deeper theory of how people know to help shape the future.” HUH? Is looking back really even relevant in a concept of “new Librarianship” where everything is in a constantly changing future?

If we grant that it might sound good in theory, that brings me to the next observation – Lankes calls on a LOT of theory to create his foundation for his assertion that “… this entire Atlas is intended to make clear a worldview of librarianship not founded on materials, but outcomes and learning. … The worldview of librarians has become so fixated on artifacts (books, CDs, etc.) that they have a hard time separating out their goals from the tools that they use to achieve them.” (pg. 15) He goes on for some pages explaining the need for this worldview of librarianship that “… must be independent of any given set of tools and/or technologies because we know they change rapidly.” (pg. 18) Granted, change is the only constant, and granted, we often become fixated on tasks over mission and goals, but without tools of some kind all we are left with is theory.

He states that “There are a host of these theories and concepts that inform new librarianship.” (pg. 25), and by this point one is left wondering if there is anything in his concept of a worldview of new librarianship that is NOT theory. Plus, all the theory to which he refers is old theory (Conversation Theory – his major foundation, Motivation Theory, Learning Theory and Constructivism, and Postmodernism) that he is adopting to create a “new librarianship”. I had to ask myself; “How is any working librarian professional supposed to gain an understanding of all this theory?”, let alone develop a working knowledge of it to apply it to just one of his “numerous methods for determining how library members [customers] perceive problems?” (pg. 26) OK, so we’re already advancing reference practices to accommodate younger library customers who don’t know what they want, or how to ask for it using their different means of communication, and using technology to make reference librarians more accessible to these Digital Native customers. How is adoption of Conversation Theory, Motivation Theory, Learning Theory or Postmodernism supposed to make that reference interaction MORE successful?

By this point the reader has to recognize that this is a graduate school MLIS text book. There is no other explanation for so much theory. As J.R. Kidd wrote; “Theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind.” I’m still searching for the practice to accompany all of Lankes’ theory. His book is very long on theory, but very short on practice.

While much of what Lankes writes is true, it is not especially useful. To state that; “If we expect support from our communities in the form of taxes, budget lines, or endowments, we must not shy away from negotiating the terms on which we are supported. If we allow the funding to continue based on old perceptions of quiet book repositories, we will soon find that funding going away. People will say that they don’t need book warehouses and cut us. Then it will be too late for us to show what we have really been up to: knowledge and empowerment.” (pp. 28-29) obviously holds truth, but skips from Lankes’ fundamental theories of “new librarianship” straight to convincing funding decision makers that the library is now (and apparently in his opinion always has been) all about “knowledge and empowerment”. If I was a funding decision maker my first question would be; “Knowledge and empowerment is what our school systems are about, so why do we need public libraries?” – that age old question that is the bane in a librarian’s side. I’d then follow with another question; “Can you show me how you are providing knowledge and empowerment?” These sound extremely like questions that are currently being asked, and we have no answers now. Lankes doesn’t provide any new answers, so, how does this “worldview of new librarianship” help keep the doors open?

What really threw me over the top on this ‘all theory’ perspective were his ideas of Social Compact that seem to me to cancel out all his other arguments for any kind of “new librarianship”.

Although I have attempted to show you the importance of having a mission, and how the particular mission of improving society through facilitating knowledge creation in our communities is grounded in deep concepts of worldviews, this is still only half of what we need to succeed. Just as knowledge comes from a conversation between at least two parties, a mission to improve society is only effective if it is mutually agreed on by two parties: the party doing the improving and the party being improved or, more accurately, the two parties that must work together to improve.

My point is that having a mission is important, but if it is not supported by the larger community served, it is useless. There must be a social compact between the community and the librarians. (pg. 28)

“OK, we’re finished here.” was my reaction upon reading this. That is exactly our problem, communities DON’T support libraries. Likening the librarian’s mission to one teaching perspective – I can only be a successful teacher if students are successful learners – might as well be stating; Don’t worry about accomplishing your mission if the public doesn’t support you in achieving it. If they don’t want to be ‘improved’ we have no mission to ‘improve’ them. OK End of conversation. Move on to something else. Is it seriously that simple?

But then Lankes makes the hole even deeper for his no-win argument by admitting that there is essentially no social compact any more and that there may well be a harsh disparity in values systems between librarians and their communities.

In many ways, this Atlas is in response to a current social compact that is fraying, with librarians seeking to either reify [make tangible] the old or push the new, and a community that is all too often unaware of the debate.

It is one thing to say that librarians are now central and that the role is in learning not collections and books. It is quote another to have academies, municipalities, schools, corporations, and governments agree. In some cases it is simply bringing stakeholders up to speed with a new situation and reality. In some cases, it is a true clash of value systems. (pg. 28)

Is Lankes suggesting that the librarian profession must now campaign to change the value systems within our communities so that they appreciate the value of their libraries? He admits it has taken millenniums to create the existing social compact, so why should anyone expect it not to take as long to forge a new one? Again – how does this “worldview of new librarianship” help keep the doors open?

Lastly, Lankes appears to be proposing reinventing librarians into scholars. It might be highly desirable to some minds to have a library staffed only by MLIS degreed librarians (clearly ignoring personality and ego issues), but the fact of the matter is that about 40% of “librarians” are not MLIS degreed, according to CareerInfoNet.org, making up the core of an even larger percentage of non-degreed library workers.

This is a condition that has existed since the MLS was invented, and it is not likely to change. Not every person who works in a library really needs a masters degree in library science – or maybe Lankes advocates a master of library arts degree, if it’s not a science anymore with tools to manipulate. All of the ramifications of theory without material tools, working knowledge of a multitude of theories, and a new social compact are ripe with foreshadowing of mission impossible. One of the first rules of management is to set achievable goals. Lankes’ “new librarianship” with a “worldview” fails that monumentally.

My only disclaimer – I have not read the entire book cover to cover – but I’m working on it. Maybe I’ll have more observations after that.

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All Millennials Are Not Information Literate – YET!


A comprehensive new study recently released – Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project – highlights what college students don’t know about research, how they do research, and what needs to be taught to them about doing appropriate research. Results conclude that all Millennials are not information literate – yet!

With funding from the Illinois State Library, using funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) with federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, a collaboration of Illinois colleges and universities conducted a seminal two year research project. The five Illinois universities that collaborated on this research project were: DePaul University, Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS).

Background
The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project is a two-year study of the student research process. The project is funded by an LSTA grant awarded to Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) by the Illinois State Library. The goal of the project is to understand how students do research, and how relationships between students, teaching faculty and librarians shape that process. ERIAL is also an applied study—that is, research pursued with the purpose of uncovering, understanding and addressing social problems. As such, its goal is to use the results to develop more user-centered library services.

Fortunately, ISL and ERIAL proponents were foresighted enough to develop tools from the research to address necessary changes to students’ information literacy capabilities. The research was exceptionally thorough.

Methodology
In order to obtain a holistic portrait of students’ research practices and academic assignments, the ERIAL project integrated nine qualitative research techniques and was designed to generate verbal, textual, and visual data. While all five participating institutions committed to a core set of research questions and shared research protocols, the research teams at each university chose which methods would be best suited their needs.

The nine qualitative research techniques included; Ethnographic Interviews, Photo Journals, Mapping Diaries, Web Design Workshops, Space Design Workshops, Cognitive Maps, Research Process Interviews, and Retrospective Research Paper Interviews. A total of 719 students, faculty and librarians participated in the research.

Findings included such perspectives as those represented by the quotes below taken from an ACRL 2011 Conference presentation by Lynda M. Duke, Illinois Wesleyan University, Search Skills of the 21st Century Student, Mar 30-Apr 2, Philadelphia.

From Students :

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From Librarians and Faculty:

One of the “applied” results of this research project was the creation of Library Research Basics online course/tool kit designed for “undergraduates who are new to research”.

While I have been declaring that the Millennial Generation Digital Natives are more information literate than any other generation so far, this study clearly demonstrates that current college students lack those high levels of information literacy. This is not incongruent with the beginning of 21st Century Skills reform in education.

Considering that information literacy has only recently become a skill adopted by some schools/states, it will take another 5-10 years of application in a growing number of school’s curriculum (both primary and secondary) to show any significant shift toward a higher percentage of students entering college with appropriate research skills and evaluation ability to determine good resources from bad.

The obvious result of this study is to motivate librarians to increase their own research skills and prepare to offer services that the new information literate customer will seek.

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An LJ Report on ALA Annual 2011


When I saw An LJ Report on ALA Annual 2011 I was hoping that I might get some encouragement that the profession was catching the vision of a 21st Century Library, and that we might be moving forward. Unfortunately, from this overview of ALA Annual Conference 2011, I’m still discouraged. What I read sounded like a traditional librarian perspective to librarianship and library issues. Let me point those out.

The section of the report titled Demonstrating value contained the following.

Librarians at the conference were eagerly seeking such ideas [arguments for change] as they increasingly face pressure to demonstrate their worth in concrete ways. How to illustrate and document value, how to increase it, was a constant theme, ….

Molly Raphael, the former director of libraries at Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR, and the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, DC, began her 2011–12 term as president of ALA emphasizing the need for those who prize libraries to work together.

“Libraries are so essential for learning and for life,” Raphael said. “I am honored to lead ALA as we help [to] address serious economic, social, political, and technological challenges…. Libraries will not just survive but will thrive when those who use and value [them] join with those who work in libraries to sustain their critical roles…in our society.”
Maureen Sullivan, who began her term as president-elect of ALA (she takes office in June 2012), said that at the behest of younger members, the annual conference was evolving to provide programming attendees demand as the profession undergoes “significant change” in tough times.

“We’re very much at risk, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the work and the contributions that librarians and library staff are making are not understood and they aren’t valued,” she said. She said ALA was the organization best positioned to address the problem.

Ron Carlee, COO of the International City/County Management Association, was frank about what he needs to hear about libraries. “If your brand is a book, it might as well be a buggy whip,” Carlee said. “The product is not the book, it is the consequence of the book…knowledge is a core service.”

It is totally remarkable to me that over one decade into the 21st Century, the general perception within the profession is still a view of traditional librarianship to the extent that there is no new vision. “Libraries will not just survive but will thrive when those who use and value [them] join with those who work in libraries to sustain their critical roles….” So apparently librarians’ fate is in the hands of library users. That doesn’t speak very well for librarians’ initiative or vision. Simply recognizing that libraries and librarians are “undervalued” is nothing new – we have been for decades. The funding decision maker very bluntly states; ditch the BOOK brand and get with the times. These two perspectives could not be further apart.

The LJ report on ALA Annual 2011 goes on to report other observations of attendees.

The Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) assessment committee made its first ever presentation at the conference, and Jennifer Rutner, incoming committee chair, exhorted the academic librarian community to develop and support “a culture of assessment.” Assessment results can have a powerful impact, Rutner said, in convincing stakeholders, particularly funding bodies, about the library’s worth.
“In this environment it has become imperative that libraries demonstrate [what] we bring to our communities,” she said.

Megan Oakleaf, an assistant professor at the iSchool at Syracuse University, NY, and the author of ACRL’s September 2010 report on the merits of academic libraries, said academic librarians need to get more forceful about validating, with data, how what they do advances the overarching mission of the institution.

“We are not being militant about this,” Oakleaf said. “We should be. And we should be aggressive about this conversation and maybe even a little angry and get ambitious about what we could provide to the conversation.”

Stacey Aldrich, California state librarian, said it always surprised her when meeting with other stakeholders how little aware they are of the libraries’ role in educating and supporting communities.

“It’s amazing to me because it’s almost like being in a room with a fireman who says, ‘I put out fires’ and me saying, ‘Wow. I had no idea that you put out fires,’ ” Aldrich said. “[L]ibraries are what they were originally created to be, the poor man’s university.

Sounds like the academic librarians are taking the bull by the horns to make some changes, and give the funding decision makers what they need – relevance.

In the section of the report titled The library mission, the following was included.

Susan Hildreth, former director of Seattle PL, who recently took over as director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in Washington, DC, said one of her goals is to get elected officials to think about investments that have already been made in the civic infrastructure and how, as libraries move away from printed materials, this infrastructure could be used to change and help better define libraries as the linchpin of the community.

“We’re going to have a lot of physical space to repurpose, and we want to do that in conjunction with our communities and our civic leaders to make sure that however we redeploy that space is valuable,” Hildreth said. “There are many different kinds of services that libraries can provide given the assets that they have.”

Hildreth also said that the IMLS is going to focus on aggregating information – now spread among various states – about the payoffs libraries provide to communities in order to make a better case for funding to Congress and the administration.
“This administration is very interested in evidence-based activities that are providing benefits to our citizens and supporting them,” she said.

Sounds like IMLS is going to take the bull by the horns if librarians aren’t going to. As I’ve been stating for some time now, nature abhors a vacuum, and if the librarian profession is not going to step up to the plate, somebody else will, and we’ll just have to deal with the circumstances somebody else creates for us.

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The Physics of Your Library Brand


Yes, the physics of your library brand is Newton’s Law, because the public image of “LIBRARY” is stuck in public perception as “BOOKS” – instead of everything else that libraries are becoming – a 21st Century Library requires LOTS of PHYSICS!

I recently came across a TED Talk that inspired this recognition of why it is so difficult to move public perception away from the stereotypical image of LIBRARY. Dan Cobley presented What physics taught me about marketing at the TEDGlobal Conference in July 2010. Cobley is a marketing director at Google, where he connects customers and businesses, helping both navigate digital space to find what they need. He’s worked in both the UK and US, but always in marketing, although his first degree from Oxford is in physics.

So, physics and marketing: We’ll start with something very simple, Newton’s Law:
“The force equals mass times acceleration.” … if we rearrange this formula quickly, we can get to acceleration equals force over mass, which means that for a larger particle, a larger mass, it requires more force to change it’s direction. It’s the same with brands. The more massive a brand, the more baggage it has, the more force is needed to change its positioning.

… that’s one of the reasons why Arthur Andersen chose to launch Accenture rather than try to persuade the world that Andersen’s could stand for something other than accountancy. It explains why Hoover found it very difficult to persuade the world that it was more than vacuum cleaners, and why companies like Unilever and P&G keep brands separate, like Oreo and Pringles and Dove rather than having one giant parent brand.


So the physics is that the bigger the mass of an object the more force is needed to change its direction. The marketing is, the bigger a brand, the more difficult it is to reposition it. So think about a portfolio of brands or maybe new brands for new ventures. [Emphasis added.]

There are few brands in the world bigger than LIBRARY. Library is generic – they are all the same, they are interchangeable, they all function the same, look and smell the same as far as the public perception is concerned. LIBRARY is one of the biggest brands ever developed. It took centuries to create the LIBRARY brand – BOOK. It will not be replaced easily or quickly – “the bigger a brand, the more difficult it is to reposition it.”

Libraries are not as well organized to survive as the “Conestoga Wagon Company”. This example of being more business-like in my Post of 11-10-10 explained how this company was able to re-invent itself by recognizing that it was in the transportation business, not just the wagon making business. The Studebaker Corporation survived the transition to automobile manufacturing, and the Great Depression, but competition from Ford and General Motors proved too costly. Studebaker struggled for decades to survive and made many automobiles as a small manufacturer, even dabbling in aviation – another form of transportation – but eventually it could not survive.

How can the library re-invent itself and change its brand to survive in the 21st Century technology and information marketplace? How can we apply physics to library marketing in order to move the library’s position in the marketplace?

    • Each library must start with its own local library brand marketing campaign – such as “Likenomics” & Library Marketing.
    • Every access point for customers to interact with a library should be a unique experience – unlike typical LIBRARY experiences – such as Digital Discovery – A New 21st Century Library Skill .
    • Every library must begin to overcome the stereotypical LIBRARY perception by becoming MORE – such as The 21st Century Library is More: and other suggestions in several Blog posts that followed.
    • Re-brand your local library on an incremental scale by creating “a portfolio of brands or maybe new brands for new ventures” – such as new logos for library programs that do NOT include the word LIBRARY.
    • On a regional level, library consortium must conduct marketing campaigns that change the LIBRARY brand to something other than BOOK.
    • On a national level, library associations must conduct marketing campaigns that change the LIBRARY brand to something other than BOOK.
    • Re-brand professional publications, logos and events without the word LIBRARY.

The LIBRARY brand must change. It is no longer BOOKS. Libraries need to actively market their changes to cause a change of perception among library customers – and the public in general – to be competitive in the marketplace. Until the ancient library stereotypes are replaced with 21st Century symbols of a new library, libraries will be hard pressed to answer and thus eliminate the question “Why do we need libraries?”.

ADDENDUM:
Two recent articles provide emphasis for the point of changing the LIBRARY image, just by changing the name and redefining the priorities to address community needs.
Don’t call it a library: Stevenson debuts new information center about Chicago area Stevenson High School’s new “Information and Learning Center”.
Now’s time for library with benefits about Carson City, NV efforts to create a new “Knowledge and Discovery Center”.

Another article emphasizes the importance of detaching the term LIBRARY from the physical building.
When “Library” Is Not an Action but an Old Building –A TTW Guest Post by Dr. Troy Swanson in which he reiterates; “This concern was captured by Rick Anderson in his editorial when he said, “Eventually the term ‘library’ becomes an honorific attached to a building, rather than a meaningful designation for what happens inside it.” (Journal of Academic Librarianship July 2011,37:4, p. 290)

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‘Post-PC Era’ – Are You Ready?


Last December when I wrote about Exponential Mobile Technology Growth – Seriously!, I stated;

Because mobile is taking over the market. Look what has happened to the early mobile operating systems. Their market share has eroded, while Apple, Android and BlackBerry have taken a huge chunk of the market place. This slide below shouts GROWTH!
And nothing says GROWTH like mobile surpassing PC in market share.

I’m sure some of you thought “This is just a passing fancy because smartphones are cute little devices, but how could mobile become that dominant?” Note the slide title above. “Mobile – Marketing – Momentum” Aren’t we seeing how it is happening? Doesn’t this point to where the future is?

In the NY Times article from last Thursday, Aug. 11, Apple Sounds the PC Death Knell, the writer states;

For over two years now, Mr. [Steve] Jobs and other Apple executives have been pushing the concept of a “post-PC era” where most people no longer have, or need, traditional computers and instead engage with the digital world though iPhones, iPods and iPads. [Emphasis added.]

FoxNews.com presented their coverage of this issue last Thursday also, and included more evidence to support the predictions, Time to Ditch PCs Altogether? Behold the Rise of the Smartphone by stating that;

According to a July survey by the Pew Research Center, one in four smartphone owners (22 million people in total, about as many as those rabid Mac owners you often encounter) prefer to connect to the Internet from their smartphone rather than their computer. About a third of them don’t even bother with high-speed home networking.

Sales of smartphones are through the roof, of course: Gartner noted an 85 percent year over year increase in smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2011. The research company also saw slumping PC sales in the second quarter of 2011, with shipments falling 5.6 percent.

That’s partly due to the rise of tablets, which are expected to help kill traditional PCs. While smartphone enthusiasts expressed interest, the vast majority still preferred the portability of their phone over other devices.

Take low-to-middle-income urbanites, for example. Many of them don’t own a computer, so the easiest and cheapest way for them to access online resources is by smartphone, according to a recent study by Fjord, a mobile research and design company.

“Many of our interview subjects attested that their first exposure to the Internet occurred on a smartphone or cellphone, not a desktop or laptop,” a [Fjord] representative told FoxNews.com.

Kate McGinly of Pittsburgh, who abandoned her laptop a year and a half ago, said it’s only a matter of time. “This is the direction in which computing is headed,” she told FoxNews.com. “With powerful apps and cloud storage, I can’t think of anything I’d need a laptop or desktop for.”

Read that last part again – “With powerful apps and cloud storage, I can’t think of anything I’d need a laptop or desktop for.” AND, to bring the issue closer to your library –


sclsyouthservices Blog posted this two days before the NY Times and FoxNews – iPads Replace Desktop Computers at North Shore Public Library.
“The children she [Lori, the Children’s Department Manager] sees as young as three years old are gravitating towards their parent’s smart phones, not desktop machines they may not have even seen before.

The Unquiet Librarian posted this the same day as NY Times and FoxNews – Next Steps in the eReader Journey: The Nook Simple Touch.
“While the device has tremendous appeal, the new tools for content and device management is the real selling point for us as a K12 school. Here is a summary of the new program Barnes and Noble Managed Program and that I’m posting here with permission from my local sales representative.”

I will continue to state: THE FUTURE IS NOW!
Stay current – or remain behind. It’s your call.

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Perpetual Beta – The Real 21st Century Library Model?


For many months now I have been writing and contemplating about what the 21st Century Library is, does and looks like. I began with a “model” that essentially only describes various external social factors that influence the environment of a 21st Century Library (technology advances, societal changes and education reforms) that surround the fundamental elements of librarianship, and uses technology to provide customer-centered services. On its face it doesn’t mean much on its face, without considerable detailed explanation, which could be why it met with thundering indifference.

I moved to a more ‘squishy’ (meaning ill-definable characteristics) model of a 21st Century Library as being more appropriately defined by local circumstances, local customers’ needs and local strategic partnerships to determine what and how to deliver customer-centered services using new 21st Century library skills like crowdsourcing, open innovation, planned abandonment, and customer targeting. While this was closer to fitting the real world conditions and the uncertain future, it wasn’t quite complete, especially for implementation purposes.

I am now beginning to think that ‘perpetual beta‘ might be as close as anyone can come to a model for a 21st Century Library. Just as it sounds, perpetual beta implies continual evolution and constant change – the ONLY certainty. Considering that the various external social factors that influence the environment of a 21st Century Library are in perpetual evolution, it seems reasonable to think that the appropriate response would be a ‘perpetual beta’ model of the 21st Century Library.

According to publisher and open source advocate Tim O’Reilly:

“Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices …. The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often‘, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services … may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time.”

… O’Reilly described the concept of perpetual beta as part of a customized … environment with these applications as distinguishing characteristics:
• Services, …, with cost-effective scalability
• …
• Trusting users as co-developers
• Harnessing collective intelligence
• Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
• …
• Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models.

[Wikipedia: Perpetual beta]

I have advocated adoption of business principals to run the 21st Century Library because we can no longer afford to believe that the library has no competition. We are drowning due to the competition, as well as due to our own lack of vision and innovation. We didn’t recognize the future and now it is upon us with all its implications, demands, and consequences. Not only is the future NOW, it is in a state of continual change and advancement to the degree that next year will be significantly different from this year, just as this year is significantly different from last year. The failing economy only exacerbated the technology advances, societal changes and education reforms factors. Conventional approaches to library operations and librarianship are no longer useful or appropriate.

Monika Hardy proposed in her Post of Aug. 1-11, Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations, that education needs to change to embrace an essential 21st Century thinking.

To succeed in our fluid/agile world, we need to think less about defining/measuring a fixed content/curriculum, (less about worrying and playing defense), and more about creating some overarching patterns evidenced in the process of learning to learn. Not only does that make learning/life more fun, intellectual learning and affiliated capabilities are amped as the motivation is intrinsically driven by the pleasure of finding things out and by understanding wicked problems. [Emphasis added.]


Hardy’s Detox, from the InnovationLab in Loveland, Colorado.

Librarians need to ‘think less about defining … a fixed content … and more about creating some overarching patterns evidenced in the process‘ of librarianship. In order to address the ever changing future, librarians must create and adopt more overarching patterns that guide library operations, as opposed to the conventional principals and practices that the profession has always advocated. Remember futurist Alvin Toffler’s Forward to Rethinking the Future, 1999, “The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those that cannot read or write, but those that can not learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Librarians should be the VERY LAST profession who might be considered illiterate because they are incapable of unlearning those conventional principals and practices and relearning the unconventional ideas and innovations that are necessary to keep the 21st Century Library relevant, thriving and providing 21st Century Library services.

Perpetual beta means that what worked yesterday will need to be reassessed tomorrow in light of the changes in the external factors that occurred overnight (figuratively speaking), and revised practices applied to meet new challenges.

Perpetual beta means library organizations MUST adopt business practices, such as:
• Continuous Assessment
• Service Oriented
• Marketing Strategy
• Innovation
• Efficient
• Flexible
• Responsive
• Nimble
[ The 21st Century Library is More: Business-like ]

Perpetual beta means reinventing your job, and your library – continuously.

Perpetual beta means that librarians must “learn, unlearn, and relearn” their profession every year through continuing education and self-education, because…..

Perpetual beta means that the practice of librarianship is evolving well beyond higher education’s capability to stay current with curriculum that will teach librarians what they need to know to practice their profession in the future.

Perpetual beta means that conventional librarianship principals and practices MUST give way to unconventional ideas and continual innovation.

Perpetual beta means last year’s Blog posts are obsolete.

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A Look Into Your Library’s Future


In my March 1, 2011 Post A Look Into Your Future I presented some examples of how the touch-screen computer interface technology was reshaping the way humans interact with computers. A couple of weeks ago I Posted Digital Discovery – A New 21st Century Library Skill where I discussed how creating a digital experience “in” the library using something like 3M’s “intuitive touch interface …Terminals let readers find and check out digital content at the library” could draw customers through your doors.

Make no mistake about it, technology is changing the face of society, including your library – assuming you want to remain in business.

Last week while I was launching Scoop.It for 21st Century Libraries news service, I came across more evidence that technology is changing your library. Smartphones Replacing Old-Fashioned Library Cards reports on how Catawba County (NC) Library System has provided a smartphone app to customers – 82,000 so far – to interface with the library.

The free app provides a searchable list of titles, and users can also renew items, place items on hold and check their account status.

“[Patrons] can then go and pick the item up at their library; they don’t have to pull it off the shelves themselves,” said Regina Reitzel, a Catawba County information services librarian. “They can also see how many books they have out.”

AND, just to prove that it’s not a fad, the article goes on to point out that….

Other systems, such as the Warren County, N.J., Library, have also released library services through the LS2 Mobile app.

Santa Clara County, Calif., provides library services via mobile devices through its SCCL Mobile tool. The tool allows patrons to locate libraries as well as find library hours of operation. Through a text message feature, patrons can receive library contact information through the tool’s Ask a Librarian feature.

In June, Los Angeles Public Library staff announced that its Silver Lake branch was the first public library to launch a smartphone app that provides a self-checkout feature. With the MyMobileLibrary app, patrons can securely check out items from anywhere within the library.

Some libraries are also supporting apps like CardStar and KeyRing [see video below], which allow a smartphone to store the bar-code data for a library card. In essence, the smartphone becomes the library card. [Emphasis added.]
Government Technology Aug 3, 2011


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Boulder (CO) Public Library has even provided a YouTube tutorial for its customers to learn to use their library’s mobile app.


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Does this sound like the future of your library? Maybe it should!

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