I was surprised (and pleased) to get so much feedback on my post about the future of libraries and the skills and mindset new librarians should be cultivating. I wrote that post as a way to prepare soon-to-be-degreed librarians for the profession, but a lot of commenters pointed out that current librarians might need to hear that message even more. And they’re right. I think my plea for engaged, creative librarians is motivated largely by my fears about how slow-moving the library world has been in the last decade or two.
When I meet library school students, and current librarians, who seem disinterested in learning about library technologies, or who are skeptical about the value of social networking, the semantic web, smart phones, and e-books, I fear for the future of our profession. We are already playing catch-up in so many areas, and we just can’t afford to continue to waffle in the face of technological change.
I wanted to follow up a bit with some more specifics about what kind of technologies new librarians should be familiar with, or at least know a little something about. These are the things that I think could have a massive positive impact for libraries, if (and when?) we figure out how to implement them.
Maybe I’m just influenced by my current research, but I think linked data could have a huge impact on how libraries manage bibliographic records and catalogs. Right now we’re all doing this ridiculous thing wherein we each buy a copy of some very expensive software, and we copy records into our own personal database, so that bibliographic metadata is duplicated over and over and over again in thousands of different places. I think this is silly, and frankly, leads to poorly managed metadata, and way too much overhead in terms of librarian labor. There is big potential for significant change in the way we manage our metadata, but we need people who understand the benefits and the costs, and who are willing to take a chance on something new. Want to know more? Check out W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group, and the LODLAM blog. There are some really terrific articles on library linked data, if you have access to a database like LISTA. I highly recommend this article, “The Cataloger’s Revenge: Unleashing the Semantic Web,” by Virginia Schlling, for a good overview.
Another significant thing to start paying attention to are changes in scholarly publishing models, especially if you’re interested in academic librarianship. Due to recent changes to requirements for NSF grants, faculty have to start paying a lot more attention to data management, access, and preservation, and libraries are starting to play a huge role here. Researchers in all fields, even the humanities, are going to start generating more and more data, and we can help them manage it. A lot of people are interested in changing scholarly communication models, and libraries can be significant players, but we have to get involved in the conversation. And we have to be knowledgeable about research practices, digital archiving practices, and the technology that can be provide access to research produced by our universities.
It’s become pretty clear that ebooks are here to stay, and that reading is going to shifting more and more into the digital sphere. We have to be ready for that, and we should be working tirelessly to ensure that we aren’t excluded from the publishing and reading spheres. Learn about digitization initiatives like HathiTrust and the Google Books Project, stay up to date on current lending practices for ebooks, and be aware of challenges, both technological and legal, and potential solutions. You might love the smell of books, and hope that your print collections will continue to draw patrons, but you can’t pretend ebooks don’t exist. If you don’t already have some kind of ebook reader, you should. Kindle apps are free! At the very least, you should have some real experience with digital reading practices, because more and more of your patrons will.
There are some very exciting changes on the horizon for libraries, but we have long had a tendency to bury our heads in the sand and continue doing things the same way, because it’s what we know, because we’re intimidated by the scope of change needed and we don’t think we have the money or time to do what has to be done. But the longer we wait, the harder those changes are going to be.
I’m going to step off my soap box now. I’m heartened to hear from so many young librarians (and I’m not talking about age here) who are enthusiastic about the challenges ahead. Good luck to all of you in your job searches and in your sure-to-be-exciting careers in library land. Hopefully I’ll meet some of you at future conferences and library events: Library land is a small place, after all.