The future of librarianship / R. David Lankes, 2011

Speaking at the Delaware Library Town Hall, Dover, in January 2011, R. David Lankes spoke about ‘The future of librarianship’.   R. David Lankes challenges librarians, and library staff, not to be passive as change occurs in the profession.  Librarians need to be “proactive” when they encounter changes which some in the profession fear will push library professionals out of libraries in favour of dumbed down services.  Change will happen whether we like it or not, so can librarians see opportunities in the change to engage more fully with “members” of the library?

This is a really inspiring talk, worth listening to a few times if you think you understood it the first time.  It is just under 20 minutes on Vimeo.com, (audio from R. David Lankes website).  Lankes asks ‘Are you OK with that?’ when librarians see a future in which library services are delivered not by librarians but by computers.  He  wants librarians to see people, “YOU”, as the centre of activity for librarians, not buildings, statistic collection, technology, or the latest computer applications.  Using this idea, he changes the usual question ‘What is the future of libraries?’ into ‘What should be the future of libraries and librarians in a democracy?’  He suggests ‘The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”

Some great quotes I took away from from the talk include:

…are you OK with the future in which this information ends up in these nice little stockpiles where you don’t know who looks at it and what they do with it, and you’re just fine ‘Oh, I’ve got an E-Book, I don’t need anything, whatever it is’?  Are you OK with that?

Because here’s the big thing – You are not a user…  And you are not a customer, you are not a consumer : you are a participant in control of your world, and you are able to shape it and so are the people you serve…

We are not training people who are being passified by reading.  I want to be real clear – when you talk about literacy, if what your goal is is reading, that’s not enough of a goal.  Why are they reading?  Is it so they don’t notice what else is going on?  Or is it so they can be an active participant in the world around them?  So, if you expect that of your community, you must expect that of yourselves…

So it’s not ‘What IS the future of libraries’, it’s ‘What SHOULD BE the future of libraries’.  What do we want?  And that’s not a buildings determination, and that’s not a City Councils determination completely, that’s our determination, to be proactive…

There are no libraries in this room.  They can’t move.  They are stuck with ivy and foundation stones.  If you have a mission that says ‘The library shall…’, change the mission.  The library can’t do squat.  ‘The librarians of Dover will…’  ‘The librarians of…’  ‘The staff of…’ People make things happen…

We are not trying to prepare citizens who are an audience member to our governments : we are trying to prepare citizens who  govern.  We are not trying to prepare people who are spectators to the future : but architects of the future.  And democracy is why we are here.  Why do we learn?  So that we can form our own destinies…

The statistic that just popped into my mind was that we have more engagement in learning hour by hour than our schools do.  What an amazing, amazing opportunity.  What are we going to do with it?

Our communities are our collection.  We need to give up ‘Collection Development’ and start talking about ‘Connection Development.’  If the amount of time you took in dusting, and sorting, and shelving your ‘stuff’, you devoted to learning and listening and working with your community, imagine the power we would have…

When you talk about your assets, you’re ‘it’…  The library is the infrastructure and tools that you use to do your job : it is not your job…

‘The mission of librarians’ – not a library, not of buildings – ‘of librarians’, of you, ‘is to improve society’…  That’s our grand goal.  Not to increase this number, increase this stat’, build this thing : it is to make our communities better.  To allow them to make better decisions.  How do we do that?  ‘Facilitating knowledge creation in their communities…’  We don’t ‘educate’, we don’t ‘provide access to’.  God knows, we don’t ‘inform.’  What a horrible word, ‘inform…’   ‘I informed them’ – what does that mean?…  ‘Inform’ doesn’t mean anything.  We ‘engage’, we are ‘active’…

The future of Delaware has nothing to do with the skyscrapers that we send into the stratosphere, it has to do with the communities, their innovation, their entrepreneurship, their potential, and that is the space you own…

The greatest threat to librarianship is not Amazon, or Google, or dot-whatever : it is a lack of imagination.  It is a lack of aspiration.  It is the belief that what you do defines why you do it.  That is not the case…  

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