Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why, oh why, do so many librarians continue to chain themselves to the past??

Ask yourself a question:  Do you believe that the only way we in libraries convey and create knowledge is through reading? Via books? By the written word??  Do you have any doubt that when most people think of books, the term “library” is somewhere nearby in their thoughts? 

I doubt you answered any of the above with a “yes”.  (If you did, please contact me separately because we really need to talk!)

So if you don’t think that way, why, OH WHY do we continue to allow our libraries, our services, our very cause for existence, to be repeatedly tied to the idea that reading is the sole purpose of libraries?!?!?!  Why do we so blatantly reinforce that image?

Now, let me state the obvious here.  There is no question that for a very long time books have been and they will continue to be in the future, a major vehicle for the transmission of knowledge, whether it’s fact or of your favorite author’s latest new work of fiction.  However, in all these cases can we agree that the goal is the creation of new knowledge?   

David Lankes reminds us in “The Atlas of New Librarianship” that: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” 

Our mission - knowledge creation.  I agree with that statement.  (If you’re wondering what I’m defining as knowledge, refer to this article, Section 6.)  

But let’s remember all the additional forms which knowledge exists in, is created, curated and transmitted in today’s world: Video, photography, sound, software, data sets, webcasts,  geo-location files, collaborative rooms, our communities of users/members and yes, librarians!

Why is this so hard for us to take in and act upon?  You say it’s not?  Well then, please consider the following:

  • Library Promotion.  It’s summertime, so look to your nearby public library promotions.  I’m just guessing that the featured event is summer reading.  Ok, I can even agree with this, but where are the programs for using a camera to tell a story, to learn about visual reality as a pathway to have a debate with Plato, to work in collaboration with other children to achieve a knowledge goal, the list goes on and on.  Yet our focus is where?  Books….
  • Face to the World - Physical.  Here’s a photograph of the outside of the parking garage of a Midwestern public library.  I’d say that’s a pretty clear statement of what they think they’re about and it does a great job of reinforcing that the library is all about….. books.

  • Face to the World - Virtual.  Take a look at most any library’s website, discovery system or OPAC and apply a really critical eye to it.  (Better yet, get one of your users to sit down beside you so you can see it through their eyes.)  Ask them:  What does it say to you about how your library provides access to existing knowledge?  In what forms or media types?  I suggest you take a look at Harvard Library’s interface as an example of how to do it well; it features a listing in the left column of “books, all databases, article/journals, news, audio/video, images, archives/manuscripts, dissertations and data. Nice.  
  • Knowledge Creation Tools.  What tools does that site provide you to assist you in creating new knowledge?  Do you feel that you can create new knowledge remotely or must you go to the library to do it?  Can you use any device you want in accessing/creating knowledge?  Can you do it from any location you want?  The answers to those questions will tell you a great deal. 
  • Signage/Services.  One of my pet peeves at most libraries is services with names like “reading lists”.  REALLY?  Have you seen a professor who only uses reading to instruct, to teach, to engage students?  Most use lectures (now frequently recorded and online), PowerPoints, webcasts, podcasts, digital content, labs where students must collaborate, writing assignments and oh yes, some articles and books.  But how many other sensory input/stimuli did they also use?  Did we not assist in providing access to all of those?  So, WHY do we only talk about the “read” portion?!?!?!?  At least, let’s agree to change “reading lists” to “resource lists” and anything else that is so named as well.
As librarians we need to move away from branding that ties libraries solely to printed materials.   We are not just about books or journals, we’re about knowledge and the containers that knowledge comes in are far great than just the printed forms.  

Please, unchain your library from the past.