Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Vision for Librarianship in the 21st Century

As someone moving towards my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Studies, I would say I’m asked two questions with disturbing regularity:

1) You’re going to be a librarian, but I thought all librarians are women.

Not really a question, more of an observation really, but I suppose the answer is that although the vast majority of librarians are women, there are an awful lot of men in the field as well. If you’re interested there is an excellent infographic about the demographics of librarians available here.

2) Why are you getting a degree in library work - don’t you know that you can find everything on Google now?

I’m going to focus the rest of my post on answering question number three. Over the course of the last month I’ve read books talking about the changes the Internet is making to our brains, our societies focus on self-tracking online and its implications for the future, how games can be a positive force for change and finally, how we can use the new resources in our connected world to learn better, faster and more effectively, and how we should be helping our children learn these skills while in school to help ensure their success as adults in a connected world.  I’ve also spoken with a great group of Teachers and Teacher Librarians on how they think the ideas presented by these books will change the way education works, and the way schools will work.

In the end, I think two of the key elements of librarianship over the next century are going to be: 1) Increased use of reference in terms of self-directed learning strategies, 2) A larger focus on Libraries and Library services in distance learning and online capacities


Having worked in the library field for most of my adult life, I am constantly met with people who are shocked at what reference services actually do for people. 

At it's simplest level, reference services help you find the answers you need.  As things stand, many libraries are opening all sorts of online counterparts for their reference desks, through webpages, apps, and even reference by text. As more and more of the World's knowlege is being complied online “…We are living at a time of unprecedented change, and the web is driving much of it…the implications for learning…is profound” (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011, p.15), and my personal feeling is that libraries, and especially reference are going to be a huge part of that, whether in traditional reference services or in helping patron get better at doing their own research.

In my mind, as people get more comfortable online, they are going to start taking more and more advantage of the massive learning opportunities available there; whether through things like iTunes Univeristy or through online courses offerred through traditional universities and libraries.  In my mind all libraries have an amazing opportunity to get involved in helping their patrons learn whatever will help them do their jobs better.  Whether academic or special librarians offering courses on reseraching specific schools of research literature or school and public librarians offering courses on how to really understand the origins of Batman, these types of learning opportunites, wherein users come to libraries to help learn whatever they are interested in will both be a continuation of what libraries already do, and a way to connect with other patrons equally interested in the same topics, only those other patrons could be coming from anywhere around the world.

Personally, I've done a significant percentage of my own learning online.  I took my first distance learning courses in high school, then a few more while I was getting my Library Technican diploma in the late 90s, and afterwards I earned my Bachelor's degree entirely through online and distance learning, moving at my own pace and focusing our topics I was interested in.  By the time I finish my Masters of Library and Information Studies Degree, I will have taken a full quarter of my Graduate studies courses online.  In my mind, onlne courses work is a pretty stratightforward game - I have a clearly defined goal (a number of classes), I'm there by choice, there are obvious rules to follow, and there is a working feedback system (my grades and instructor feedback), in McGonigal's excellent book Reality is Broken (where I got the list of basic game traits, btw), she says, "...No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness—by working hard at activities that provide their own reward." (McGonigal, 2011, p. 15), and for me that happiness comes from working my way through school.


One of the big things you can do right now is get involved in the conversation, and there are a number of places you can start, ISTE’s Special Interest Group for Media Specialists (SIGMS) provides a community for school library media specialists to gather and learn about technologies that improve the operation and programs of the school library media center, increase access to information, and create a more effective and efficient teaching and learning environment. (Perez, 2012, para. 5) You can also follow all sorts of exiting websites which are looking at technology and librarianship today, my current favourite is The Modern MLIS, which I use to keep on top of all sorts of library and related technology trends. Finally (for those of you in the field), you can get involved with the various Associations and groups who are looking to this very stuff, like LITA, RUSA, or the Various Networks pages at the Canadian Library Association website.  Changes are happening in how libraries are handling the new tech-heavy world our kids are growing up in, and you can either be a participant in those changes or watch from the sidelines.

Realize that tech is not the be all and end all of the future of libraries, but you’re only hurting yourself if you choose to ignore it, remember that “…children who grow up playing computer games and checking information online grow into the middle schoolers who find it more natural to communicate by texting and to find information through Twitter. (Fasick, 2011, p.7), These kids are growing up in a world where they can learn about pretty much anything they like, and if we’d like to be a part of that, we need to go where they are.

Finally, just breathe. There was probably pushback when the book was first introduced, and the move from card catalogues to computers has been a bumpy road. In the end, we’ll be doing a lot of the same things, it may just end up we’ll be doing them for patrons from around the globe.

Works Cited

Fasick, A. (2011) From Boardbook to Facebook: Children’s services in an interactive age. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
McGonigal, J. (2011) Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Books.

Richardson, W. & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education.Bloomongton, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Perez, L. (2012) Not your Grandmother’s Library. Learning and Leading with Technology. 38(6), Retrieved at

Images Used
Monastic Library, Theological Hall, retrieved from


  1. Thanks for mentioning my blog (The Modern MLIS) in your post. Right now I'm not posting much original content. Once I have a new position I will have more to discuss.

    I find it challenging to strike the right balance of information posted on the blog. Also, you don't want to spam your readers and one is never quite sure of the popularity of your content. Analytics are helpful though. I follow MANY technology blogs and news websites with an RSS reader. This is the only way I have found besides maybe Google alerts to stay on top of info. tech. news. Its time-consuming by rewarding and I learn a lot.

    I saw your email address for the UofA and realized we were in school together! I hope your MLIS is going well. I have such great memories of the UofA and my time in SLIS!

  2. Great job Kirk! I enjoyed reading your post. I too have done a lot of learning online and know what you mean in that regard. Thanks for the great resources and links. They will come in quite handy for me. Anyway it was great working with you in this course. Hope you have a fantastic summer and get to spend some much deserved time with your wonderful family (I feel like I sort of know them too now!)

    Take Care,