Saturday, September 17, 2011

the next librarian

Where do we see our libraries fitting into our future? Will they be totally virtual, existing somewhere out there in the cloud, searchable and accessible to all, as some folks envision? Or will they still be mostly brick-and-mortar places that people will visit, to review physical, digital and metadata, and interact with others in the community as well as library professionals?

Image: Diffusion spectrum image shows brain wiring in a healthy human adult. The thread-like structures are nerve bundles, each containing hundreds of thousands of nerve fibers. - Van J. Wedeen, M.D., MGH/Harvard U.

As I speculated in another post not too long ago, where they really end up is up to us. But that's true only as much as we, as patrons of the public library, use our influence to direct our libraries toward the future we want. I believe that our future library--at least for the foreseeable future--will be a combination of the two models mentioned above. Our demand for increasingly advanced technology, in access and search-ability, can provide the guidance to get us there, but someone needs to drive the bus.

That's where librarians come in.

So what kind of person will the Next Librarian be? Librarian's themselves are answering that question as they strive to keep pace with the changing landscape of information technology. And this is happening around us right now!

When the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts needed a new librarian a few months ago, they made their selection process open and democratic; the public got to chime in on who their librarian would be. The two final candidates were interviewed in public, and both were asked to make a public presentation at the library. The topic: Do We Still Need Libraries Today? Aren't Community Centers, With Computers, Enough? In her presentation, successful librarian Sharon Sharry gives many examples of the kinds of things modern libraries can provide: from internet search assistance, to a "technology petting zoo" that helps patrons learn about and interact with new technologies. In her comparison of the library to the traditional community center, Sharry says: "the library of today is better positioned to guide our patrons through an ever more complicated system of information." Damn straight.

In their talk, titled "In the Spirit of Benjamin Franklin" given at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2011 Conference in Philadelphia, Andy Burkhardt, Catherine R. Johnson and Carissa Tomlinson lay out 13 virtues of the next-gen librarian. The first one: "Courage—Act not from fear, but in spite of it..." The second is Flexibility: "Libraries, education, and the nature of information are constantly changing. Next-gen librarians are able to scan the horizon and identify trends and impending change." The Next librarian won't always have all 13 virtues, but the list is a good start for what to be aware of as we move forward.

Dan Messer, the Cyberpunk Librarian, said this in a recent post: "...I found a video about grocery shopping in South Korea and by the time it was over, I had an idea for library and circulation outreach." Awesome! These are the kind of people I'm talking about. Is Dan Messer Next? Yes. What he was talking about by the way, are QR Codes, and using them to put books and other materials on your library hold list with your smart phone. Scan 'em at the bookstore, yo. Off a poster in the subway, video, or online. Or, right out of the New Yorker Sunday Book Review! hint

In her new book, "Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library and Information Science" Laura Townsend Kane covers topics like "Librarians as Technology Gurus and Social Networkers" and "Librarians as Teachers and Community Liaisons." Kane talks about disintermediation and what it means to librarians and researcher alike. Disintermediation in this context means cutting out the middleman (in other words, doing the research yourself, via Google, or some other thing.) The Next Librarian is a tech savvy guru and may be a subject specialist, or can connect you to one. While disintermediation gives you 1.2 million hits in 1.4 seconds, a subject specialist can tell you what 4 websites, publications or databases you should use for your research paper, and explain to you why you can trust them. That's intermediation, baby!

You don't want to go it alone bunkie, its scary out there. You don't want to waste your time, or worse, get left behind. What you need, friend, is a librarian.

You need the Next Librarian.


  1. Great post! Thank you for being such a great advocate for libraries!

    By the way, I think you'd make a great Librarian!

  2. A librarian with the screen name ShSh? That's the greatest thing ever. Thanks for stopping by!


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