This afternoon I sat in on Joseph Janes‘ The Library in 2020: Visions of the Future of Libraries. Though it was essentially a book promo (Library 2020 due out in July), a lot of interesting points were raised by the book’s chapter authors.
What will endure? What makes up “library” regardless of time or place? Janes considers stuff, place, people, community, and leadership & vision.
Stuff is the access question. Formats are constantly shifting and digitization is yet another priority. What stays, goes? Why? Most importantly, as ‘access to stuff’ will not be a “winning strategy” in the future, where is our service component to these new technologies and online heritage collections?
‘Library’ is becoming a concept more than a place. We need to start thinking “more about what it does than what it has” (connection to stuff).
Sarah Houghton says that libraries of the future “will be ruled by geeks” and that the skills that make people good techies make good leaders. She’s proof of this!
James Rosenzweig has a chapter that makes a nice analogy to the library as an “information base camp” where libraries are “serving as a temporary home to people journeying out into the information environment.”
In order to maintain our relevance to our community, Janes and his co-authors say we need to focus on “boutique, tailored services” that are not offered elsewhere.”
The conversation continues online with the Twitter hashtag #mylibraryin2020
This talk also had a “Libraries Are Screwed” sentiment but with some valuable ideas for transformation. A few things Eli said:
We have all of our marketing value in one format.We are still library as place and that place as a repository for books. Even as we offer other services, our look and brand echoes the book. Eli also mentioned what we like to forget – that reading is not a pastime for the majority.
Librarians have positioned themselves in a service role but we are now in a situation of self-service. Instead of panicking that we must provide access service and reference service, what about becoming content producers? This is the “valued added” element that can sustain libraries. He made the analogy of librarians becoming the next journalists. I understand that point, but also wonder what that might mean. We don’t have journalists anymore because of citizen journalism. We want our users to be content creators. How then do we define our value?
A librarian’s role is knowing what content is valuable. The addresses the wave in library school of turning information professionals into coders. Eli says we don’t need to be IT specialists or web designers. Let the experts do that. What librarians can do is tell IT and web designers what content is good and where to find that content.
Librarians should be super users. Just because our speciality isn’t in coding or design doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what’s out there and what technologies are coming up next.
Today Denison University Library participated in the Books2Eat. Books2Eat is formally called the International Edible Books Festival with over 20 countries participating in a day of literally eating your words. According to the official website, the festival takes place every year to honor the birthday of French foodie Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (there’s a mouthful) and take advantage of April Foolery.
I never thought I’d do this, but I’m leaving Diigo. I haven’t deactivated my account just yet, but I’ve weaned myself from this 20th century social bookmarking site because I’ve discovered a 21st century one – Scoop.It!. Dr. Steve Matthews’ post Personalized Professional Development? Scoop.It! led me to explore the service.
Now that I am using LibGuides, I wanted a more visual and engaging list of web links for my subject guides. Diigo lets you create a linkroll to embed into your guide, but it’s just words and very static on the page.
With Scoop.It!, I have a window of images with resource summations plus activity – the Scoop.It! linkroll shifts to a new link every 5 seconds. I hope these new visuals and movement on the page will be more engaging to the users of my guides.
What makes Scoop.It! the 21st century bookmarking site is it’s seamless integration with social media. I have two Scoop.It! accounts – one for work to bookmark for the arts and one for personal/professional to bookmark for arts librarianship. Though I have yet to transfer all my resources from Diigo to my new Scoop.It! accounts, I’m already finding like-minded folks and can follow their bookmarks – and they are following mine. I can easily share my discoveries with other artists and librarians, creating a community and having a conversation.
public services The librarian must ever be a philosopher; he must preserve a calm and unexcitable state of mind in all circumstances. If one reader wants the window opened wide and another wants them shut, the wise librarian will compromise by opening half-way.
Commandment 5 Honour the opinions of an author as expressed in his book, but shouldst thou disagree with his views, pencil thine own notes in the margins. By so doing thou wilt not only give evidence of thy vast learning, but will irritate subsequent readers who will, unmindful of thy superior knowledge, regard thee as a conceited ass.
collection developmentSelect books in haste and repent at your leisure.
The Enemies of Books(on Project Gutenberg) by William Blades (second edition, London, 1888) is much more dry. The more interesting chapters include
Dust and Neglect Blades was…politely, but mutely conducted by the librarian into his kingdom of dust and silence.
Servants and ChildrenChildren, with all their innocence, are often guilty of book-murder.
And who was so generous as to donate this book, originally at Kenyon College? Fees and Fines, the most difficult of all patrons!
Information literacy is outlined in clear standards by the Association of College and Research Libraries and these standards are reinforced by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s accreditation proposals. These are idealistic measures that do not compromise on their definition of success. However, the realities of academic libraries and their ability to meet these measures must be reflected in the highest level of conversation on this hot topic. Information literacy is not only a library matter; its issues and expectations must be addressed by academic administration as a campus-wide initiative.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education readily admits that “general education programs cannot offer a sufficient opportunity for students to achieve fully the higher-order information literacy skills (2).” Yet, rather than review curriculum and academic programming, the Commission and others favor a periphery dialogue between faculty and librarians to resolve this problem. Many academic librarians are already asked to provide bibliographic instruction in less than an hour of class time with no follow-through. Now these librarians are burdened with the additional standards of teaching information evaluation and its social implications – without additional class time, financial compensation, or apt education.
This concern is addressed by Stanley Wilder (2005) who believes “librarians should use their expertise to deepen students’ understanding of the disciplines they study (14).” Herein lies the larger problem. Academic librarians today are often hired without extensive subject knowledge or teaching competence – only heightened research skills. This shift occurred in the late nineteenth century. Initially, scholars worked in academic libraries, supporting patrons with their subject expertise and professorship practice. Then, in 1877, Melvil Dewey established the first library school and, as Frances Hopkins noted, “there is no doubt that Dewey’s good intentions depressed the profession as a whole (Owusu-Ansah, 2004, 7).” Today we are again being asked to be scholars. I view this as a return to a more rigorous academic national curriculum.
Information literacy cannot merely be an extension of bibliographic instruction. In current library instruction, the librarian begins each search process at a superficial and elemental stage of knowledge on the subject, so she stresses trivial methods. By starting each reference search at the know-nothing level, it suggests to the student that research is a tedious and linear development – the exact opposite of what we have learned about common information-seeking behavior. Information literacy places too much emphasis on this erroneous set of actions. Additionally, this process poorly “duplicates what effective teachers,” according to Joseph McDonald, “…already accomplish with their students (2004, 1).” Librarians should be in a position to support these teachers, not replace the focused education and curriculum with agendas hastily created to achieve vague academic standards. Clearly librarians should work with faculty on teaching learners to learn, but offering credit courses outside of subject emphasis places information literacy alongside subject learning rather than directly within it.
It is surprising that something as basic as literacy would be pulled aside for isolated consideration as a requirement for higher education. The ALA’s definition of information literacy reads like the foundation of any university mission statement. University libraries need to support this, not reframe it. While ALA may encourage librarians to work with their institutions in meeting standards, the library should not direct this conversation – the academic administration as curriculum developers should lead. While it can be frustrating to only advocate change and not enforce it, libraries need to push information literacy as more than simply library expansion.
McDonald, J. (2004). Information literacy or literate information? MLA Forum, 3(2), pp. 1-14.
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2003). Developing research skills and communication skills. Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Owusu-Ansah, E. (2004). Information literacy and higher education: Placing the academic library in the center of a comprehensive solution. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 30(1), pp. 3-16.
Wilder, S. (2005). Information literacy makes all the wrong assumptions. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(18), p. B 13.
The Spring 2012 issue of The Hedgehog Review has an enlightening article by Chad Wellmon. Why Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid…or Smart is a reference to Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic article Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr admits that the internet “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” Multiple tabs open for email, RSS feeds, and browsing distract him from focused critical reading of lengthy articles or books. “The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration,” Carr acknowledges.
Wellmon refers to this as information overload, the new catch-phrase of our time. While Carr considers stupidity a result of overload (too much to process means we stop processing entirely), Wellmon suggests this argument is too simplistic and rather naive. He reminds us that “these technologies do not exist independently of the human persons who design and use them.” Furthermore, we’ve been through overload before – when we invented the printing press.
Wellmon cites Ann Blair’s 2010 article in The Boston Globe, Information Overload: The Early Years. When Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century, “suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight.” Wellmon refers to German readers in the late 18th century claiming “to have been infested by a plague of books.” Christian Thomasius, the philosopher, referred to this overload of printed material as a “kind of Epidemic disease.”
What came of this information headache? Blair tells us “a raft of innovative methods for dealing with the accumulation of information” emerged. Public lending libraries, bibliographies and indexes, reference manuals and encyclopedias all developed to assist readers in determining what needed to be read and where to find those important pages. Note-taking was well-advised. Cutting and pasting (the literal kind) maintained a clean selection of the best reading materials. Soon these sheets of pasted print were used as a reference system themselves; this is the foundation of the library card catalog which in turn influenced the organization of the Internet.
“All of these technologies” Wellmon concludes, “facilitated a consultative reading that allowed a text to be accessed in parts instead of reading a text straight through from beginning to end.” The original infoglut crisis was averted with a variety of coping mechanisms we still use today.
“This preoccupation with challenging traditional stereotypes and images, while at the same time seeking reassurance and justification for why and how librarians do what they do, is merely one of a number of symptoms of a deeper malaise or ‘condition of discomfort’ underlying the library profession (165).”
Sometimes I wonder if librarians are still deeply committed to Enlightenment values and have merely taken an insecure hold of Postmodernism – with the hesitation that it’s only a passing trend. Hillenbrand’s 2005 article nicely addresses my personal condition of discomfort with the profession.
I looked up two of the articles referred to by Hillenbrand. I felt myself agreeing with Dave Muddiman’s philosophy and so I read his 1999 article Towards a Postmodern Context for Information and Library Education. It helped structure how the Enlightenment is transforming into the Postmodern, but something he wrote struck a larger connection:
“In general terms such critics have argued that the Enlightenment project itself has historically ignored the culture of large majorities of the world’s population: women; non-Europeans; the poor, and so on. Information and library science, reflecting this culture of exclusion, has thus helped construct a privileged form of knowledge which, far from being universal, amount to a partial yet dominant culture which is male, European, positivist, and humanist (6).
Now that we have a new tagline – Information Wants to Be Free – we need to really look closely at who is freeing it. Information will be organized by and created by this dominant culture because to provide information for free means that only those that are already wealthy (and bored) will have the financial and social means to do so. While Muddiman seems to suggest that Postmodernism helps alleviate library science’s traditional culture of exclusion with the advent of hyperlinks and social connections to information, I’m beginning to question if the Internet and it’s theory of inclusion is really transforming into a virtual Enlightenment.
Could this be the current deeper malaise of the profession?
While this is completely divergent from Hillenbrand’s article, it made me rethink her text and the initial question – crisis or transformation? I initially finished her reading and thought “transformation.” Then reading Muddiman’s text got me thinking “crisis.”
So I also read Miroslav Kurk’s 2003 article Truth and Libraries. From Hillenbrand’s work, Kruk seemed the strongest anti-Postmodernist cited. He begins by pointing out that the library has already established anti-Postmodernist – or should I just say the library has already established a culture of exclusion – by creating Reference, Fiction, and Nonfiction sections. We have order to “truthiness” as per Stephen Colbert. Kruk believes that the modern library is “entirely practical” and moving away from “the sphere of the sacred” that “was a conscious link to the values of that ancient architecture symbolized such as Order, Divine Benevolence, Virtue, and Temperance (235).”
Have we given up Truth for Equality and yet failed to realize that this Equality is only fiction, a fiction that we hold on to for fear that we, as librarians, the Great Equalizers, are no longer needed?
Could this be the current deeper malaise of the profession?