Seth Godin’s post on the future of the library gives us a useful insight into perceptions about libraries, whether we think he is right or wrong in what he says. Sarah Glassmeyer has done a good job of unpacking it all on her blog.
And Kathy Dempsey’s comments (part of Seth’s posting) are right on the mark and worth reproducing here:
I’ve been in the library field for more than 20 years, and I think Seth’s proposal is off-base: “train people to take intellectual initiative.”
Libraries already have plenty of people willing & able to train others in how to do better searches, to be more information-literate, and how to use technology to its best advantage. One of the problems I see is that the public (be they students, community members, business people, etc.) do not want or value the help of librarians, who are still stereotyped as old-fashioned and not useful in the information age. Librarians have all this key knowledge but nobody wants to hear it from them. It’s not cool or smart to ask a librarian for help (especially if you’re a Digital Native). This could be at the core of our downfall. What I therefore see as a more important step is for librarians to fight and update their stereotype. People need to realize and understand their value. We need to get out of our own boxes and show leaders how smart and useful we are. Unfortunately, most lib employees aren’t good at this, and there are few out there who can teach them how to do it. This isn’t part of the library school curriculum. And once you’re in an day-to-day library job, you don’t have the permission, time, or money to find and take workshops that will teach this still. Many, too, don’t even want to put themselves out there. The old “people who need us will come to us w/o outreach” mentality is a threat to our survival. To sum up: the library field already has great trainers and thought leaders. But they don’t reach outside their own field, and on the rare occassions that they do, too few people find them worth listening to.
So here we are again. Our challenge is to communicate the value we can offer, whether it’s through providing collective access to resources, or being intellectual leaders. The thing is, this challenge has been around for a few years now. My dream is that by the end of this decade (in fact way earlier than that!) librarians have this sorted – we have upskilled our profession about how we can use all aspects of the marketing discipline to enhance what we do, and we are experts at communicating our own value and that of all the resources we provide.