Being “The Library” Again

What would it take for “the library” to regain its former stature? To be recognized as the primary institution for free and equitable access to information? To be the place where people turn first to get answers to everyday questions, as well as find life altering experiences? Is that even possible, or desirable?

A couple of recent blog posts seem to suggest that it is – both – possible and desirable. Anthony Molaro’s post of February 10, “Libraries Gave Up Control” asks a lot of pointed questions about why the profession is in the shape it’s in today, and whether librarians can overcome the self-made situation to regain control of the profession. Agnostic, Maybe followed that post with his own views on February 16, Fight the Future where he sees the issue as two fold – “how much control over content, tools, and services do we have and is there a will to reclaim it?” Their perspective is focused more on the issues, but I suggest the solution is LEADERSHIP.

My thoughts lean toward a perception that there is not an abundance of talented leaders in the profession today to turn the situation around, because where are the librarians know how to do any of the great and wonderful things both Andy and Anthony suggest may be solutions? What library school program is training new librarians to recognize 21st Century factors that are impacting librarianship, let alone apply solutions? Where does a librarian learn to create a new, more functional ILS? Where does one learn the fundamentals of “expanding rights over library content”? Where is the entrepreneurial spirit? Even if we “hope” there is a will to reclaim control, who is going to lead that movement? Where are the leaders?

Kansas City Public Library

I believe librarianship is faced with a new paradigm that places the emphasis on librarian leaders dealing with the local situation to position their library to survive, and yet that requires exceptional visionary leadership – not a common trait among the profession. As I stated in “The Revolutionary Library“, “Evidence has convinced me that the 21st Century Library Paradigm is that libraries will be defined by those librarians running them and their local community more than by the profession, or SLIS, or any librarian associations’ standards.”

The problem becomes one of vision. The characteristics I stated above; vision, entrepreneurial spirit, and leadership are all essential to making the local library “The Library” again – in whatever form it needs to be in 21st Century society.


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6 responses to “Being “The Library” Again

  1. I think the problem may be a lack of visionary leadership in some cases, but not all. I was fortunate enough to get my MSLS on a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian scholarship. Roughly 25 of us across Pennsylvania were part of the same online cohort. We became a tight-knit group. Quite a few of these students had already been library directors for years, many at small, rural libraries. I learned as much, if not more, from them about librarianship than I did in any one academic class. While these directors could exercise their vision within the context of our online classroom, they did not have the luxury of doing so in real life. In many cases, they were a one-man show, or nearly so, at their small libraries. They did everything, including building and grounds maintenance. Their realities (and sometimes their boards) forced them to be practical more often than visionary even though they clearly had vision. I see the same thing in my own system. Many small libraries that are important to their communities are simply struggling to exist day to day. It’s probably hard to be a visionary when you’re raking leaves or fixing plumbing. And too often in this profession thought leaders are simply cast as those who can think but not do. Since I’m not on the front lines, I try to be cognizant of these realities as much as possible especially when my vision doesn’t seem to be in line with what may actually be possible.

  2. Pingback: Fragmentation in the library blogosphere « bringyournoise

  3. Anonymous

    Good morning Steve,
    Amen. We have to prove we are worth supporting and that means a heightened sensitivity to local issues and reasserting our position as a necessity for a healthy community through actions. As a profession we have done a middling job as advocates, especially when it involves local government. Other necessities-public safety, public works-do a decent job of proving their worth with tangible products. Our situation may be more challenging, but there are so many opportunities. We are working with the local police on a community policing program as well as accentuating in-school programs and participating in the city’s strategic planning process. Where there are opportunities to be in the same room as the decision makers in local government we try to be there and be part of the conversation. These are not always comfortable situations, but I try to keep in mind the following bit of wisdom: “No victories are won under the banner of I can’t.”

  4. john callahan

    I work at a middle level state institution and watched administration insist on weak leadership. It is hard to be innovative, assertive, successful in professional activities when your leadership is not interested. I think it would have been impossible to get hired or internally selected if you were not ‘domesticated’ to the ways of the institution. You need a top level administration with strong leadership values to be successful in the new library.

    • I totally agree John.
      You are spot on when you say that innovative and creative leadership begins at the top. Librarianship requires individuals in leadership positions to understand what it means to share power, support failure and promote creativite problem solving – all the 21st Century skills today’s librarianship should endorse.
      Thanks for your comment.

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