A Sixth Challenge Every Librarian Must Face

In October of 2011, I wrote Five Challenges Every Librarian Must Face and outlined these five challenges.
1. Broadest Spectrum of Library Customers in History
2. Information Literate Millennial Customers
3. Computers that Replace Librarians
4. Transition to Digital Content
5. Devaluing of the Library’s Benefit to the Community

In the past two years I have not seen or read anything that revises my opinion about these five challenges. Almost 5,000 reads in just the past year (8,500 since posted, about 100 a week) have not resulted in any opposition to those five challenges. Although, in January of 2013, I posted an update to 21st Century librarianship, 21st Century Librarianship – Revisited, in which I wrote about (a very slight) change in librarianship education.

And fortunately, there does appear to be a slowdown in the worsening of Number 5. Library closings have slowed and are less in the headlines, which seems to indicate that, if there has been any improvement in the economy, libraries are benefitting from better local budgets along with other community entities. That’s the good news! Still, the bad news is that the local library must reinvent itself to be more relevant to its community, if it expects to survive, and certainly if it hopes to thrive.

The sixth challenge every librarian must face is the personal development of new skill sets – the kind of skills they don’t teach you in library school. I have long advocated that the 21st Century library must be more business-like to meet the multitude of challenges that running a library faces. (Read and The 21st Century Library is More: Business-like and More Business-Like? Absolutely!)

Based on my assertion that 21st Century Librarians Create 21st Century Libraries, it follows that the 21st Century librarian must also have the business acumen in order to run that 21st Century library – 21st Century Librarianship – Part 4, Business Acumen. That business acumen includes the skills to be successful at such tasks as:
• Conduct continuous assessment
• Be service oriented
• Employ marketing strategy
• Implement continuous innovation
• Develop flexibility
• Be highly responsive to every environment
• Become nimble in operations

These are traits and skills not traditionally associated with librarianship. Which means the forward thinking and innovative librarian must develop these skills on their own motivation, effort and resourcefulness. Not only those business skills are required in the 21st Century, but many other skills not traditionally associated with librarianship.
• Cloud Computing
• Customer Targeting
• Crowdsourcing
• Digital Discovery
• Gaming
• Open Innovation
• Planned Abandonment
• Social Networking

And, as if that wasn’t enough change, in 2000 Alvin Toffler gave us a new understanding of literacy in the 21st Century: “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” Which means we must also develop new learning skills and master skills such as how to:
• Learn and re-learn
• Use constantly changing technology
• Master new ways to find Information
• Efficiently problem solve
• Effectively communicate
• Create strategic collaborations

21st Century Librarianship is faced with MANY challenges that can only be overcome through new ways of being a librarian, using new skill sets, and imbued with a new understanding of what being a librarian means today – and in the future – if our profession is to have a future.


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7 responses to “A Sixth Challenge Every Librarian Must Face

  1. Pingback: A Sixth Challenge Every Librarian Must Face | 21st Century Library Blog | Learning Curve

  2. The skills you refer to are all essential Steve, and those that reflect a more business-like approach to library operations seem to be lacking in MLS programs. At the administrative level more time is spent on matters of finance, personnel management, planning, etc. than on activities associated with librarianship. While there are some signs that the economy is improving, they continue to be in short supply in southeastern Connecticut. The ability to assess community needs and provide evidence of the library’s status as an asset won’t change even if the financial picture brightens. The days are long gone when a library can, passively, assume that it will be recognized as an asset without having to defend that proposition and prove its worth.

  3. I began studying for my MLS after many years of volunteering in my public library and connecting with public libraries for 5 decades and after earning my first masters degree (in education) and sharing learning with public school students N – 12 for 30+ years.

    Without a doubt, I am sure that I would not be able to provide the service I give as a public librarian without the foundation of 4 years of college education before my MLS studies. With that, as well as my work and personal experience, I have only in recent years begun to really appreciate the true nature of public libraries.

    As I read the suggestions here and elsewhere, I sometimes get discouraged and think that my library and my library system should be doing so much more. But then as I reflect on particular situations in which I or my co-workers have rendered service, I view us as always working toward the 6 challenges mentioned here. Would it were that we had more financial resources and better community understanding of public libraries? But we have what we have and I am sure that we are doing our best.

    As with others who offer their remedies for improving libraries and putting the onus on just the library workers, I suggest that one also consider the other public library community members. Now is a good time to educate entire communities about the value and work of libraries and librarians. But I believe that library workers are so necessarily focused on the day to day needs of the library that there is little time and few resources for us to adequately educate the public as suggested above.

    Yes, I do this whenever I can, sometimes with must a spoken word or action as I’m quickly finding info and resources needed. Yet advocacy for public libraries can be very effectively done, or perhaps even more effectively accomplished, by other community entities who well understand their work, such as regional and state library organizations. (although it seems that that those advocating might best spend some days observing first-hand the work being accomplished) And in this advocacy, I believe that librarians might be singled out for their contributions for keeping public libraries open and operating. And I believe that we stand on the shoulders of countless librarians who toiled before us and that we should honor their efforts as we manage the continual change that public libraries now constantly undergo. (If some librarians are hanging on tighter to analog resources and LCSH, I say ‘great’ since I’m more of an ‘early adopter’ and then realize that too soon I’ve embraced something ‘not that worthwhile’! )

    Can someone with only a few years of library science related courses and be expected to view the past, present and future of public libraries? I’m a doubter, but it seems to me that research studies could be accomplished to sort out these kinds of issues. And after some years we might have some definitive data. (Heck I’ve worked with “just get the work done” library science graduate students and wonder how these folks are now meeting the 6 challenges mentioned.) I believe that successful work in public libraries involves a huge dose of devotion, commitment, maturity, and understanding of the public and THEIR understanding of libraries )

    Until there’s some hard data on these matters, trust that many of us, librarians and library workers, know the challenges and we meet them as best we can each day. Yes, I mean, all 6 challenges every day(!) whether I work the part-time hours for which I’m scheduled or the many other hours on my own that I stay current in the the library science field and well beyond. (and I do my best to recognize the contributions of my co-workers whether or not they have earned an MLS. They have much to offer me. And they seem to appreciate my often broader understanding of public libraries, a large part which has come from required study, dialog with others in the field, my continual effort to stay current in the field and my ongoing commitment to serve the public.

    Thank you, Steve, for providing the space here for my comments. I hope they are helpful at least in some way.

    • Thank you Ann for sharing your perspective. The challenges that librarianship faces in this 21st Century can be discouraging for sure. Obviously, not everything can be accomplished in a day or week, or even year, but the goals for which those in the profession strive must be clearly understood, and not the goals pontificated by someone like me, but by those librarians in the trenches every day who work with library users. Being aware, knowledgeable, flexible and innovative will go farther toward making the local library relevant to its community than anything else, including bloggers, professors and associations. Thank you for your devotion, commitment, and service!

  4. Pingback: A Sixth Challenge Every Librarian Must Face | Sisterhood of the Silver Shoes

  5. Lucy

    I once got the opportunity to ask the person who ran the public library service I work for about this. The response was due to the limited money allocated to marketing services, it is almost impossible to advertise the widely varying library services offered for differing age, learning, socialization, employment and interest groups. As a result, when marketing the diverse services with extremely low funds had been attempted in the past, it failed.

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