Tag Archives: Librarianship

Replacing School Libraries with Makers Spaces – a worrisome tale


I want to preface this post with a disclaimer: Though I spent 2 years in charge of a school library in the early days of my career, I make no claim to any special expertise in children’s services or school media centers beyond the general knowledge I have gleaned during my time in the library profession.  In addition I do like to ‘stay in my lane’ and, as a result, have rarely if ever weighed in on issues specific to school libraries. When I began reading about the Makers Movement in school libraries, I left the issue alone as it was outside my wheelhouse. However, as this picks up momentum nation-wide it will come to affect us all in time, not just as public libraries but also as a society looking to an educational system to develop our next generation.

I have previously mentioned that I was slow to embrace the Makers Movement shift in public libraries.  It simply didn’t speak to me right away; so I was a bit of a hard sell. I believe libraries, while we continue to innovate, must make decisions based on the ‘long-haul’ from a position that respects public trust and our over-arching missions that withstand the tests of time.  It is human nature to jump on the new exciting thing. However, I have been completely convinced that these programmatic spaces and innovative offerings in public libraries are an exciting component of lifelong learning and essential to bridging the digital divide just as books were in the early 20th century.

So as much as I am a proponent of Makers Spaces in public libraries, this same movement in school libraries is worrisome.  Is the school library really the appropriate home for a ‘makers space’ (3D Printer, sound studios, sewing machines, etc)?  I may be working from an old model- let’s admit- it’s been awhile since I was in elementary or high school.  But wouldn’t the 3D printer be more logical placed in the computer science department or the Technology/Computer Lab?  And the sound studio in the Music Department? And the sewing machine….what happened to Home Economics?

If you do agree that the school library should embrace the ‘movement’, then comes the question of “To what degree?”.  Where is balance in a school library setting between reader advisory, digital literacy, bibliographic instruction, etc and the cutting edge technology we are seeing in Makers Spaces in public libraries?  In at least one school district in Kansas it appears the scales are far from balanced and it has many worried:

School libraries shift toward innovation areas, but librarians fear for what’s lost,

by Rick Montgomery of the Kansas City Star June 24, 2016

(Edited for brevity- follow link for complete article)

Librarians in the Shawnee Mission School District are making way for “the maker movement,” and some worry where that story is going… at least four Shawnee Mission grade schools have hired “innovation specialists” to run their libraries when fall classes open.

That’s the language of the maker movement, which seeks to convert once-quiet school spaces — usually in the libraries — into hands-on laboratories of creation and computer-assisted innovation….In fact, the word “librarian” didn’t come up in the job description for an innovation specialist at Merriam Park Elementary. “Stories” wasn’t there, either. No mention of “books,” “literature” nor “shelves.”

[Jan] Bombeck [of Ray Marsh Elementary] said. “It’s like they’re avoiding people with library certification.”

District administrators say that’s not the case. They do acknowledge, however, that grade schools haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago — when they stocked books, gave research help, suggested age-appropriate literature and provided a cozy corner in which kids could turn pages.

Wow…Really? That is quite a statement “haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago”…so no middle ground? School libraries must either be an arcane model  or makers space?

 Today all Shawnee Mission pupils are issued an electronic tablet or MacBook, providing them many times the information once squeezed on library shelves.“Now that they have those digital resources in hand, no longer do I have to get up and walk my class to the library,” said Michelle Hubbard, assistant superintendent of leadership and learning.

It is excellent to hear that these technologies are being made available to students on this scale.  It is equally distressing to hear a school administrator diminish decades of school library efforts to this degree of irrelevance.

 This past weekend at Union Station, hundreds of area kids demonstrated what it’s about at the sixth annual Maker Faire: They programmed 3-D printers to craft sculptures. They used laptops to help Lego robots complete assigned tasks. They showed off sewing, gardening, electrical wizardry and consumer products of their own making.

In this worrisome movement I see a computer lab, tech center, science innovation, music education enhancements and home ec (with even a little bit of ‘shop class’ thrown in).  What I don’t see is a library.  If we need these innovations in our schools- and I would ABSOLUTELY argue that we do- let’s place them in the appropriate department.  If we need sewing machines and we wish to teach this skill, bring back those amazing Home Ec & Shop teachers who taught us how to make great pillows, bird houses, balance a check book and even cook! But don’t use them to replace Librarians. These are two different things and both are necessary!

 …Leslie Preddy, president of the American Association of School Librarians….“To call yourself a librarian, you need to have that training and to be certified,” said Preddy, who works in a school district near Indianapolis. “If you replace a certified librarian with someone who’s just an expert in technology, you’re losing half of the role that school libraries are supposed to be serving.

“You still need someone who is a champion of reading.” She cited the research of Keith Curry Lance (much of it funded by librarian groups) that shows higher student scores in reading, and in some cases even math, at schools where certified librarians are present.

The shift has many worried and they are speaking out.  Hoping to encourage the school district to seek a balance between library and makers space.

…Bombeck…took a stand. At the May 23 meeting of the Shawnee Mission school board, the librarian stepped up to an open mic …“Several elementary principals have expressed a desire to turn the library into only a makers space without any library curriculum,” Bombeck said. “I have never ‘just read stories’ and checked out books. I have taught digital citizenship, copyright law and internet safety. I have taught research skills and database use.”

Ellie Seemann, who just finished her final year as the Merriam Park librarian, said that offering maker spaces and traditional library services shouldn’t be viewed as an either-or proposition. “I hate to hear it talked about as one or the other,” she said. ….

But, unfortunately there may be more at stake than the library-advocates can rail against…

District officials say part of a $233 million bond referendum that voters passed in 2015 directed funds toward remaking school libraries. They say the innovation goals were well-communicated at the time.

As for staffing, assistant superintendent Hubbard said: “It’s really more about the skills that an individual brings to lift kids to that level than it is about certification.”

Whether or not educators have completed a master’s program in library science, which is one route to certification, Hubbard said that “all great teachers can teach kids to read and teach them research skills.” She said she would expect those skills to be highly considered whenever maker-minded teachers are hired to replace retiring librarians….

$233 MILLION! Towards ‘remaking’ libraries.  As I lay in bed in the dark of night and ponder these shifts perhaps I am becoming more cynical with age, but I do wonder: In an educational system that has spent the past decade downsizing and marginalizing school media centers and the role of Librarians, is this shift to makers spaces simply another step to further that agenda but with a more palatable flavor? From the success of the bond referendum and the resulting organizational changes to district libraries and hiring practices, one could certainly draw that conclusion.

They say “you can’t fight city hall” and I think the same sentiment could be applied to school districts.  But I do hope that the professionals, the public, the parents, and groups like ALA and AASL will continue to fight the good fight and raise issues with the worrisome path school districts are choosing.  I certainly believe a balance between library and makers space can and should be found that will provide the most educational   opportunities for students.

If not, in 20 years when our “libraries” are full of sewing machines and 3D printers, we may find ourselves reading articles about a revival movement to add “Reading Spaces” to schools…where will those go…the band room?

 

 

 

 

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The 21st Century Library Director is a CEO


I have to play solitaire to go to sleep.

I didn’t use to. I would watch tv, read, dozing and drifting to quiet my mind. And eventually I would drift off.

But that doesn’t work anymore. My mind races. To-Do lists fill my head. Conversations rehashed or practiced. Strategies and plans. Budgets and contracts. They barrage my mind until I’m making notes into the wee hours. Sending emails. Making lists.

Why? What has changed?

 

My job.

 

I started as a librarian. Moved on to management. And then into administration. I always thought that jump from management to administration would simply be a natural progression of steadily increasing responsibility and challenges. But I simply had no idea. Being the Director (if you are in an autonomous agency and doing the job correctly) is to be the CEO of your library.

But they don’t teach you to be a CEO in library school. I also have an MBA. And surprise. They teach you a whole lot about money, marketing and business. But they don’t teach you to be a CEO in Business School either

So when you find yourself in the job and realize that none of your formal education has given you the tools necessary to do the job, what do you do? As any good librarian, I started researching.  I found hundreds of books, articles, and online resources on the subjects; because IN FACT they don’t teach you to be a CEO anywhere.

 

So how do you learn to be a CEO?

 

After asking a great many professionals and doing a great deal of research I have come to the conclusion that the majority all learn the same way.  They get dropped in the deep end of the pool and either drown or swim.

And what does it mean to be the CEO of a Library? What does the job look like? How is it similar or different than being the CEO of other types of organizations?

 

So what do my days as the CEO of an urban public library look like…?

Many of my days take on a life of their own and a trajectory that on great days I shape, on good days I wrangle, and on bad days I just hang on and pray a little.

I simplify life. I tell people when they have done well or when they have failed. I refocus energies on the goal. I remind people of the path. I listen and summarize in the hopes that my synopsis might provide the clarity for others to reach a decision

Other times I complicate life. I explain what is missing and request more to be done. I explain why a project is not complete though it is presented as such. I add necessary details or new information that reshapes a project. I add new requirements I only now realize are necessary because of the progress made thus far.

In some people’s story I am the champion. In others the villain. And none, if any, know the whole story even when they believe it is their own. I take blame and give credit. I have broad shoulders and thick skin to withstand the barrage when it will shield the innocent and ensure the goals are accomplished.

I make sure that everyday I am exactly the kind of employee I want to have. I work harder, longer and better than I expect anyone else to do. I don’t ask anyone to do anything that I would refuse to do or have not done in the past. I model every attitude and every behavior I ask my staff to have. I hold myself to a higher standard than I would anyone else. I create the culture of my organization. I build my team. With that team, I define the vision and set the direction of my organization.

I never raise my voice.    I admit when I’m wrong. I ask for, listen to, and implement better ideas than my own. I try to surround myself with people who are smarter and better than me. This makes some staff love me.

I am decisive. I know my own mind and my vision for my organization. I believe we can be better. So I do not accept the present as good enough. I tell people when they are wrong and demand they do better. This makes some staff dislike me.

And at the end of the day if the organization is better I have succeeded. If it is worse I have failed.

And at the end of the day- I am responsible for everyone and everything.

Because that’s what being a CEO is. And that’s why they don’t teach it in any school or classroom. Because they can’t. It’s not a job or a profession. It’s not even a career.

It’s a way of life.

My job is to hop and juggle and prioritize. Like a circus performer, keeping all my plates spinning on their sticks. And just when they start to fall, give them a good spin in the right direction with all my focus and attention for a split second before I move to another set of plates and do the same. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

When does it stop? When does it get easier?

Never.

 

Why does it matter you may ask? Why do we need to understand that a Library Director is a CEO? Defining the position helps us identify the skills, education, and measures of success for the job.

How do we gauge the success of a Library Director?  How their staff feels, patron feedback, increased material circulation?  We know the CEO of a corporation is successful based on the companies bottom line and growth.  How do we determine the success of a Public Library and therefore its Director? In a Library there is no fiscal bottom line, instead we use numbers that are more fluid, testimonials of patrons, budget ups and downs, etc.  So how do Boards and Citizens evaluate the work of their Director? Do they? Shouldn’t they?

And if we are going to start using clear criteria to determine the success of our Library CEOs, are we providing them with the skills necessary to BE good at the job?  Or are we simply taking good Librarians and promoting them hoping they will also be good administrators?  We are overflowing with leadership programs in LibraryLand – but is growing leaders the same as training skilled CEO’s to lead our Libraries?

This year the 21st Century blog is going to spend time exploring the issue of Library Director as CEO.  This incudes:  training, tools, skills, challenges, measures, outcomes, and more.  I hope you’ll contribute to this important conversation.

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Passing the Torch


I have been blogging about 21st Century Library since January 2010. Some say that’s a long time for a blog. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 4&1/2 years, but I do feel as though I have run my course and written virtually everything that I have to write about the “21st Century Library” and 21st Century Librarians.

It is a topic that will never be fully explored, reviewed or discussed, because as much as we engage in the topic it will evolve, even while we converse, into whatever we envision it to be, which creates a new conversation about the new role of librarianship.

One of my earlier positions on change within the librarianship profession I wrote in February 2011 in Discontinuous Thinking;

Charles Handy based the title of his book THE Age OF UNREASON on George Bernard Shaw’s observation that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man. His argument was that the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, while the unreasonable [person] persists in trying to adapt the world to himself; therefore for any change of consequence we must look to the unreasonable man, or, I must add, to the unreasonable woman.” [Emphasis added.]

While in Shaw’s day, perhaps, most men were reasonable, we are now entering an Age of Unreason, when the future, in so many areas, is there to be shaped, by us and for us – a time when the only prediction that will hold true is that no predictions will hold true; a time, therefore, for bold imaginings in private life as well as public, for thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.

My point being that librarians need to adapt the library to serve the new environment that society has created for its consumption of information. We need to better understand the real business that libraries are in, and librarians must discard the old stereotype of the library and librarianship and replace it with whatever works in the community that their library serves.

This should not be interpreted to mean that I endorse librarians shaping their community for the better, because our role is to serve. Simply serve the information needs of our community. Librarians do not establish what those needs are, they figure out what those needs are and satisfy them. The vacuum created by the uncertainty, evolution, or revolution, of the role of librarians within the community allows many misdirections in seeking that role, but the guiding principle is always service! If the new role does not fit the concept of service, then it isn’t the correct role.

Having stated all this, I will be stepping aside as the blogger of 21st Century Library Blog to allow a better mind than mine to direct the conversation about that new role of librarianship. Many times I have referred to my “good friend urban library director” in posts because I found many ideas and words of wisdom in her writing. She has agreed to take up the challenge of contributing to this conversation, partly because she has lots of ideas and things to write, and partly because she is my daughter, who was a librarian before I was.

Director Kimberly Matthews, Trenton (NJ) Free Public Library, has agreed to step in as the new blogger for 21st Century Library Blog. I have every confidence that you readers will find her writing more thought provoking, engaging with a very “practice” orientation, and even amusing.

It has been my great pleasure and privilege to present this forum and hopefully contribute to this worthwhile conversation. Thank you all for your support.

“21st Century Librarians Create 21st Century Libraries”

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ALA’s Vision for the Library’s Future is Not Even Its Own


The Libraries Transforming Communities vision is not even a vision that ALA created. It appears to be a vision adopted from one of The Harwood Institute’s programs with whom ALA is partnering to transform America’s libraries. What were they thinking? Obviously grasping at straws, but buying magic beans? SERIOUSLY?

ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2014 includes a disturbing revelation that has actually been brewing for a couple of years, and is well along the way to indoctrinating new librarians. The Executive Summary espouses a vision of the library’s future, if you follow all the links to the source.

The ALA has made transformation a top priority. As libraries continue to transform in 2014, they deepen engagement with their communities in many ways, addressing current social, economic, and environmental issues, often through partnerships with governments and other organizations. Moving forward from being providers of books and information, public libraries now respond to a wide range of ongoing and emerging needs.

That “transformation” link goes to another article about ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), “groundbreaking libraries-as-change-agents initiative.” Read that again. Libraries-as-change-agents!

Through LTC, ALA will help the public library profession become more focused on and skilled at convening aspirational community conversations and more innovative in transforming internal practice to support fulfillment of community aspirations, and ALA will mirror that change internally, in its own processes. This work will help librarians become more reflective of and connected to their communities. It will help libraries to build stronger relationships with local civic agencies, non-profits, funders and corporations. It will yield greater community investment in civility, collaboration, education, health, and well-being.

ALA is working with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to develop and provide training opportunities and learning resources to support community engagement and innovation. The Harwood Institute has a vision of “turning outward” that emphasizes shifting the institutional and professional orientation of libraries and librarians from internal to external.

Libraries Transforming Communities is made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. [BTW: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped make EDGE Benchmarks possible.]

Professor R. David Lankes and Barbara Stripling presented a webinar on March 8, 2012 “designed to stimulate conversation about harnessing the evolving role of libraries and strengthening the librarian’s voice to help shape community perception.” Barbara Stripling was Co-Chair of ALA (now Ex-) President Molly Raphael’s Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities task force, and is now ALA President for 2013-2014.

When Professor Lankes published “The Atlas of New Librarianship” in 2011 it was the greatest thing since sliced bread in library circles. Unfortunately, librarians were not reading it closely and really understanding what Lankes advocated. My critique was not so accepting of his advocacy of radical social activism. (Book Review: R. David Lankes – The Atlas of New Librarianship and Final Review: The Atlas of New Librarianship) To repeat my original critique; I was still hoping for something practical and useful in “The Atlas” when I came to the Knowledge section in the Facilitating Thread (which includes access, knowledge, environment, and motivation) where Lankes begins to develop the foundation for an argument in favor of all kinds of literacy. When I read it, I was shocked and appalled at the ideas he was advocating for librarians.

For librarians “To be ‘literate in’ means to be able to use something to gain power.” (pg. 75) Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Unfortunately, YES! Lankes then continued on down a path I could not have imagined, and hopefully, neither could the vast majority of professional librarians. The lengthy quote that follows is essential not to break context and to fully understand the role he advocates for librarians. The role that ALA has adopted and is now advocating through The Harwood Institute.

Librarians can impart all the instruction they want on how to search and evaluate sources, but if we don’t also facilitate the knowledge of transforming all of that new knowledge into an effective conversation …, we have created a closed loop with limited benefit to the community in general. So information literacy must include the idea of conversation literacy. Indeed, concepts of new librarianship call for a host of expansions in all sorts of literacy.

… Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a handbook written by a far left radical during the unrest of the 1960s … is a fascinating read.

What I want to point out, however, is Alinsky’s take on the word “power.”

    There are a number of fundamental reasons for rejecting such substitutions [for the use of the word power]. First, by using combinations of words such as “harnessing the energy” instead of the single word “power,” we begin to dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life.


Power is not bad or evil. Alinsky would say the evil is when you don’t have power. Without power you don’t make decisions, things are decided for you. Librarians need to be powerful. They need to be able to shape agendas, lead the community, and empower members to do the same. We seek out power not as an end but as a means to make the world a better place. To serve, to truly serve, you need to be powerful so you can steward the community.

Why this trip through radicalism and political protest? Because it lies at the heart of how we are to interpret the role of literacy in librarianship. If we see the role of librarians as supplementing other educational processes (teaching reading in schools or literacy organizations, or supporting parents), then literacy is a somewhat limited concept. …

However, if we look at literacy as empowerment, literally to gain power, then we have a different take on literacy altogether. Librarians, I would agree, need to view literacy as a means of acquiring power – more often than not, power for the powerless. (pg. 74) [Emphasis added.]

Lankes admits that he is trying to shape ALA’s vision of the librarians role as social activist. His mission statement for New Librarianship reads; “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society….” He actually justifies his “trip through radicalism and political protest” because “it lies at the heart of how we are to interpret the role of literacy in librarianship.” SERIOUSLY? Since when does radicalism or political protest have any place in librarianship? And, he also advocates that librarians “seek out power … to make the world a better place. … to truly serve, you need to be powerful so you can steward the community.” is arguably the most arrogant attitude any profession could conceive. Then couple that power with Lankes’ idea that librarians should be present for ALL knowledge creation within the community and you have what sounds like something that is certainly not librarianship!

Now, what exactly is ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative that they are partnering with The Harwood Institute to sell to librarians? Harwood’s “Turning Outward” states;

Turning Outward makes the community and the people the reference point for getting things done.

Turning Outward impacts:

1) Engagement – Shifting who you see and include in your work and how you engage with them to create change.

2) Partners – Helping you gain clarity about the partners you need to move forward – and those that are holding you back.

3) Priorities – By understanding what space you occupy within the community, you no longer struggle to be all things to all people. Instead, you focus on what you can and should impact.

4) Strategies — How you develop and implement strategies that reflect the context of your community and people’s shared aspirations – and not to get so entangled in programs and activities.

5) Communications – Reframing how you talk about your work and impact, so that it is relevant to people and their concerns – and how you can contribute to a more productive community narrative.

6) Organizational Culture – By Turning Outward you can align and drive internal efforts around shared aspirations and shared language, which makes it easier to work across departments and get things done.
[Emphasis added.]

Sprinkled throughout their six-point approach to transforming librarianship are innuendos that are contradictory to everything that libraries stand for. Changing who we include in our work so that we can change society? Aren’t libraries supposed to be all-inclusive? And change society into what? Into some librarians idea of what their community should be? Only partner with organizations that can help the library and avoid any that might “hold you back”? And, who might those organizations be that would hold back the library from serving ALL the citizens within their community? We should no longer struggle to be all things to all people? SERIOUSLY? So libraries should only serve some select tax payers, and ignore the interests of ALL its taxpayers? And, by all means let’s STOP getting entangled in programs and activities!

What in the name of S.R. Ranganathan has gotten into ALA? Since when has librarianship been about radical activism, or totally focused on “changing society”? Since when has librarianship been about gaining power in the community and deciding what improvement society needs? Since when has librarianship been about exclusivity?

If this is where 21st Century librarianship is headed, I want no part of it. I will not be the librarian that ALA’s visions and programs are espousing. I will not impose my personal biases (and don’t think for one second that you don’t have any, because everyone has them) on my community and judge what improvements it needs. Especially not when it is paying my salary to serve it.

If ALA has any perception that librarianship is lacking a clear identity, then they are clearly clueless about what it should be. In fact, they are so clueless that they are willing to buy some program from The Harwood Institute and adopt Professor Lankes’ New Librarianship, both approaches that will surely destroy any resemblance of what librarianship is in favor of creating a library workforce intent on changing the world. Change the world to what?

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What IS the State of America’s Libraries?


My first impression of ALA’s Report was just another rehash of Pew’s survey information. ALA releases 2014 State of America’s Libraries Report is that rehash, but it also masks ALA’s misguided concept for the future of librarianship.

CHICAGO, April 13, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Libraries continue to transform to meet society’s changing needs, and more than 90 percent of the respondents in an independent national survey said that libraries are important to the community.

But school libraries continue to feel the combined pressures of recession-driven financial tightening and federal neglect, according to the survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and school libraries in some districts and some states still face elimination or de-professionalization of their programs.

These and other library trends of the past year are detailed in the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2014 State of America’s Libraries report, released today during National Library Week, April 13– 19.

Most of the emphasis here seems to be on the desperate school librarian situation, which deserves as much muscle to correct as ALA can muster. But, after venturing off into la-la-land to discuss banned books, the article concludes with a link to the full report, State of America’s Libraries Report 2014. The Executive Summary states;

Some of the key findings of the national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project were detailed at the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits in Philadelphia in January. These included:

• Ninety-six percent of those surveyed agreed that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading. The same number agreed because libraries provide tech resources and access to materials, and a majority view libraries as leaders in technology.

• While the overall number of visitors to a physical library or bookmobile dropped five percentage points from 2012 to 2013, from 53% to 48%, there was an equally significant increase in the number of users of library websites. Particular increases were noted among African Americans, Hispanics, those age 16 to 29, and those with some college education.

• More than 75% of the survey’s respondents want libraries to play an active role in public life. Seventy-seven percent want libraries to coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to children, and the same proportion want free early literacy programs for children. People look to libraries to help fix struggling schools and to help children learn to navigate new technologies and become critical thinkers.

An earlier Pew study, released in May 2013, showed that most parents highly value one resource for their children: libraries.

Hmmm. Sounds familiar. Didn’t I just write a post on Pew’s view of the library world? Sure enough – Pew Research Defines Library Users – Yet Again? – three weeks ago.

The Executive Summary also delves into ALA’s vision of the library’s future. A very disturbing vision that they are borrowing.

The ALA has made transformation a top priority. As libraries continue to transform in 2014, they deepen engagement with their communities in many ways, addressing current social, economic, and environmental issues, often through partnerships with governments and other organizations. Moving forward from being providers of books and information, public libraries now respond to a wide range of ongoing and emerging needs.

This can include helping communities cope with the unexpected. The rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had many public libraries struggling to keep up with the demand for public computer terminals and with requests for help in using the Healthcare.gov website. And people left homeless by Hurricane Sandy filled libraries in New York and New Jersey, using library computers to complete federal forms and communicating with loved ones using the library’s internet connections.

And through it all, libraries continue to deal with societal issues and sometimes with problems—such as homelessness—that are familiar but nonetheless seem intractable. San Francisco Public Library’s outreach program to homeless users, for example, is staffed by a full-time psychiatric social worker and includes the services of five peer counselors, all of whom were once homeless themselves. The New York Public Library is reaching out to another at-risk group through BridgeUp, an educational and antipoverty program that provides academic and social support to at-risk 8th–12th graders at NYPL branches in underserved neighborhoods.

And sometimes the word “library” stretches the traditional definition of “library.” The Lopez Island (Wash.) Library, offers musical instruments for checkout, and the Northern Onondaga Public Library in Cicero, New York, lends out plots of land on which patrons can learn organic growing practices. (“Anyone can ‘check out’ a plot!” says the library’s website.)

[I will write more on why adopting this “Libraries Transforming Communities” vision borrowed from The Harwood Institute in which libraries become “change-agents” to their community is a very bad idea.]

My urban library director friend recently wrote;

Another serious issue facing not only public libraries, but our profession as a whole, is self-identification. We must continue to understand and truly believe in what we do and why we exist. As I attend conferences, meetings, and workshops, I hear the frustration of the internal struggle with my colleagues in rationalizing their place and purpose within the current model of public library service. I listen to the frustration over feeling as if books and reading have been abandoned by the public in favor of Facebook and social media, or spending time on the computer. I hear their struggles with their desire to provide in-depth reference yet meeting the patrons desire to simply receive a quick answer to that question, or to be signed up for their next session on the computer.

I have been involved, due to my recently published book on strategic planning for the 21st century library, in many discussions on planning and purpose of the mission for the public library. I hear the struggle between the professionals in their own identification of the mission of the free public library. They grasp at answers including encouraging reading, encouraging lifelong learning, creating a community gathering space, enriching lives, and many more. We as a profession must, while respecting the individual community and library needs and differences, establish a clear mission and purpose for the “librarian.” I believe that this is essential to our continued survival in the future. Each time I am asked if Google will be our undoing, I am more certain that we ourselves and our lack of understanding of our mission and purpose in this new society is much more likely to be our downfall. Because, if we were clear about our mission and purpose, the question of whether or not Google will replace librarians would be moot. [Emphasis added.]

That pretty well summarizes what is lacking in this 2014 State of America’s Libraries Report from ALA – any perception from them that librarianship is lacking a clear identity.

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The Librarian’s Role in the “The Battel of the Books(‘ Readers)”


Do you remember Jonathan Swift’s account of “the terrible Fight that happened on Friday last between the Antient and Modern Books” in St. James’s Library? That was last Friday some month in 1697, but it could easily have been an account of the biblio-fisticuffs between Antients and Moderns any day on the Web in the last twenty years or so.

Jonathan Swift 1704

Jonathan Swift 1704

As in Swift’s day, our Antients and Moderns come in several stripes: Textbook Antients and MOOC Moderns, Printed Antients and Kindled Moderns, Copyright Antients and Open Access Moderns and so on. One stripe to have taken the field recently is the humblest of the lot but nonetheless passionate: the Antient and Modern Readers, that is you, Dear Reader, not the e-reading device. Were you aware of this pugilism by proxy on your behalf across the expanse of the Internet? No? Then, … allow me to provide you with “a full and true account” of the actions of certain of your avatars. ….”


If you are a lover of books and reading, I strongly encourage you to read the entire thought provoking article at “The Battel of the Books(‘ Readers)”

What is our role as 21st Century Librarians in this future of “reading“?

Or, is being a librarian only about ACCESS?

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Why Do We Still Need “libraries”? We Don’t!


A couple of years ago I reiterated the age old question – Why do we still need libraries? – but mostly in passing. I noted that both Leonard Kniffel, long time Editor and Publisher of American Libraries, and former ALA President Roberta Stevens have acknowledged that the major question of the 21st Century that they are most often asked is; “Why do we still need libraries?”.

They both express exasperation from being asked that question repeatedly, and I suspect there is hardly a librarian anywhere that has NOT been asked that same question. What this tells me is that the profession has no single or universal answer, AND, that there is no adequate answer – yet.

Why is that? Why are we – the profession – unable to answer that fundamental question? Is it because there is no single answer that satisfies everyone? Is it because the answer is too big for non-librarians to understand? Is it because it is the wrong question that has no correct answer? Yes. Yes. and Absolutely!

When we look at what the library is evolving into today – the 21st Century Library – we can easily answer the “Why…?” question with a “We don’t.” answer. BECAUSE that tired old question is asking why we need the “classic” library, the 19th Century Library, the “collection of books” library, the librarian as “gate keeper” library. And the correct answer is WE DON’T!

We absolutely DO NOT need that tired old stereotype library with the bunned, shushing librarian guarding a dusty collection of “books.” Society has no use for those obsolete libraries and librarians of the past that were adequate for the society of the past.

So, what is the solution to answering people’s question? What can the librarian profession of the 21st Century reply to that question? Try this.

“You’re right. Our community does not need the “library” that you’re thinking of, because that library doesn’t have:
• high-speed Internet terminals,
• access to more materials than the NYC Public Library,
• downloadable eBooks, eAudio books, music and videos,
• 3D printers for people to make their visions something they can hold in their hands,
• a virtual branch where you can access our information 24/7,
• a mobile app for you to take “it” with you wherever you go,
• mobile technology that can give you a virtual tour of our collection,
• innovative learning programs for virtually every interest,
• dynamic space for stimulating conversation,
• creative environments to stimulate your imagination,
• librarians to help you learn how to use all these services,
• user centered materials and services, and
• more challenges to your learning and entertainment than Disney World.

OK, well maybe that last point was a little over the top, but you get the idea.

The next time you hear that tired old question “Why do we still need “libraries”?” think about your library and answer with a flourish and an excitement that says –

We Don’t.

we need lib

21st Century Libraries!

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