Recently (by which I mean the last year or so) people in my profession have been discussing a concept of libraries and librarianship. That’s a clunky sentence, but there’s a reason for that: I hesitate to call this concept “new,” which is a normal word to insert into a sentence such as that one. Another reason is that the name (or rather, nickname) of this concept is even more controversial than the concept itself, so I left that off too. So here’s the concept:
- Libraries should deliver the services their users need in the format that best serves their users.
- Libraries should keep up with innovations in their field and in the technology that they and their users can or could harness to help them fill their information needs.
- Libraries should recognize that there are a lot of kinds of information that their users need (print, digital, prose, image, data, and the list goes on).
- In short, libraries should be relevant to their users.
Does this sound revolutionary? I think not. I think this is what we’re doing and have been doing for, well, forever. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that this concept is being spun as something new, and it’s being spun in a way that seems to be intended to be inflammatory. It’s meant to shake us out of our “we’ve always done it this way” funk, but in doing so it alienates two major groups of librarians: those who need the chance to understand the concept before accepting it, and those who have always been exploring the ever-changing topography of user needs.
To deal with the first group of alienated librarians first, I think that arguing that we need to get away from arguing about the name of a concept (as was stated, rather forcefully, at the Dead Tech session of CIL two weeks ago) in effect side-steps a major issue. If people are unable to discuss a concept because the name itself makes them mad, maybe the name is an issue. Librarians of all people should understand that exact words matter. We wouldn’t have so many acronyms if we didn’t believe in thoroughly explaining every service, group, and tool in its name (the Online Public Access Catalog comes immediately to mind…who thought up that little sobriquet?).
So, what’s in a name? The name that’s been pretty firmly attached to the concept at hand is “Library 2.0.” This name immediately does two things that I don’t think were intended by those who coined it: it implies that the skills, services, and holdings in libraries are obsolete, and it names libraries a “technology” fashioned by others and totally reactive rather than a living, vital group of people providing value-added services.
For the second group of alienated librarians, it implies that we haven’t been doing what we should be doing. Now, I’m not saying that the L2 concept actually is telling us to hurry up and do what we’re already doing, but simply by calling it the second iteration (and, by implication, the better iteration) of librarianship, it implies that we’re not doing something that we should be doing. And there’s nothing more annoying than being told to do what you’re already doing.
One final note, and then I’ll quit. I think that the pure volume of the discussions surrounding this concept is part of what makes some librarians uncomfortable. It feels like one more symptom of a disease that is ravishing the library profession. This disease is “Millennial Discomfort,” and it’s systemic in libraries. There’s such hysteria, such frantic runnings around in circles, and (let’s face it) such fear of this new generation and how “different” they are that the profession is on the verge of paralyzing itself. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the fact the librarians get a whole degree in how to find out about stuff. So what’s so scary about finding out about new technologies, services, and information sources? It’s what we’re trained to do.
So let’s talk about the concept just as a part of librarianship and not as a part of any NEW librarianship. Let’s serve some users and do it well… just like we’ve been doing since librarianship was invented.