In the face of nearly universal budget cuts and online information accessibility like never before, libraries need to evolve. I get that. I’m totally behind that. But at what point do we “evolve” our way out of the title of librarian?
First let me say I am not tied to that title. I just graduated in 2010 and landed my first job by that name last month so I’d like to keep it a while (I rather like it) but “information specialist” has a nice ring too, and a bit better connotation:
librarian: a person who administers or assists in a library.
information specialist: provides expertise in acquiring, evaluating, and searching information resources in all formats.
That sounds a lot more valuable. (Both definitions via Google) but in the quest to demonstrate our value, how far is too far? When does the library stop providing tech services we exist to provide and start to become a completely different entity?
I heard that term about a million times in grad school, and then it dropped off the radar, replaced by all these “community center” type ideas and programs, and my problem with them is that they seem to yell at would-be patrons, “hey, don’t forget about me, your friendly local library! I’m still here, I’m still relevant! Come use me, pleeeeeease! I’ll do whatever you want!”
(Again let me qualify my statements by saying if your library has patrons clambering for a bike rental program, go nuts my friend. Every library is unique and its services are dictated by the needs of its patrons. I speak here broadly about libraries in general.)
Rather than promising patrons whatever we think will get them in the door, why don’t we focus on the reason we exist and make sure we’re doing a kick-ass job of delivering information to patrons in ways they can use? We can still be innovative, we can offer services that are outside the box, we can engage the community and get involved in the participative culture while maintaining the image that the library is all about information – locating, decoding, processing, and using information.
Even if we limit ourselves to such a purpose, there are still millions of ways to achieve that goal – without worrying about the space requirements of the local robot battle hobbyists. That’s the beauty of the information commons – it’s a tabula rosa in which to find and engage with information.
NO moderately sized organization could succeed as a jack of all trades – to do everything mediocre is to do nothing well, and if the end game of library programming is to get people using the services we provide and to continue to support the library, it’s not a good strategy. When the levies come around (and they always do), will your patrons and community vote for a library that invested its financial resources in well-versed librarians and a rich collection, or one that offers bike rental?