Someone recently viewed an old post of mine (Dr. Steve) from June, 2010, Are We in a 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift?, and that made me realize that I should revise my assertions about a paradigm shift in librarianship, based on my current understanding of the state of American libraries and ‘paradigm shift.’
In my opinion we are. However, it is different from the paradigm shift we all discussed 15 years ago [beginning in the mid-1990s] that was a result of the introduction of the Internet and WWW into the average American office, university, school and home. That shift was essentially about delivery of library services. There wasn’t much change in philosophy of library science, but it changed delivery of library information from on-site to online. The concern that the WWW would replace librarians was exaggerated and didn’t materialize, because we retained our “information specialists” role who knew the How and What of information retrieval and evaluation. Everything evolves, from card catalogs to OPAC, but it was about delivery.
Today there are different factors influencing the library profession that make a paradigm shift inevitable and essential, based on my assessment of the literature. The most profound factor is the change evolving among youth toward information literacy that will challenge librarian’s “information specialists” role. Within the next 10 years librarians will not be THE only “information specialists” who are able to retrieve and assess information.
I went on to write other posts about the nature of paradigm shifts, its manifestation in the librarian profession, and how the profession needed to recognize and embrace that shift. If you’re interested in those discussions, just type paradigm shift in the Search window.
In those earlier posts I described the shift as;
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.
My current thinking is that we are in a shift, but the nature of that shift is now clearly (to me) from a librarian-centric philosophy to a user-centric philosophy, NOT simply that local librarians will define the local library. Since library users are local, obviously the user-centric philosophy will be implemented locally.
When Kimberly posted Public Libraries Must Agree Upon a Mission If We Are to Survive last month, our subsequent conversations made me realize that a true “paradigm shift” should accompany a significant shift in mission. That was not the case in my assessment of future librarianship. The fundamental mission of libraries is … to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government., and I believe that will never change – significantly.
I also realized that I was one of those who got caught up in the hype of changing the image and re-inventing ourselves, when all we were experiencing in the profession was clearly a lack of confidence in our mission, our reason for being, which lead to a scramble for a new mission – a new reason for being librarians. All we really needed was a new vision for achieving our fundamental mission in an evolving environment that demanded a shift from a librarian-centric to a user-centric philosophy. Even though we may no longer be the only “information specialists”, that doesn’t mean the core mission and values of the library have actually shifted to something else.
All that has shifted, and should shift, is the focus of librarianship, thus libraries, from the long held librarian-centric philosophy to a 21st Century user-centric philosophy. That in itself is significant.
[For those of you interested, read my post 21st Century Librarianship vs. The 1876 Special Report that reviews the state of librarianship in early America, and the roots of that old librarian-centric philosophy.]