The Librarian Shaming tumblr highlights anonymous “confessions” from our field. Some are humorous, some shocking. Some will make you think and maybe reconsider assumptions. This shameful confession perked me up when I discovered it: “I want to replace all librarians with tech people with great customer service skills and teaching ability. I want the library to have its own Genius Bar.”
While a bit narrow in focus, this statement resonates on an instinctive level with me as an LIS educator. On a certain hand, it makes perfect sense: many library folk, myself included, have stressed that the teaching function of our evolving service-oriented duties will only grow over time.
We need to be broader. But before we do that, let’s consider this suggestion.
Perhaps the person who shared this dramatic wish has only experienced one library environment, rife with stagnant folks who refuse to learn or try new things. Maybe the confessor is burnt out on working at the service desk, providing less than great service. Possibly that staffer has simply checked out.
Maybe the clientele of this particular library have changed of late. They look to the library not for “reference-y”-style help but assistance with mobile devices or other technological needs. Had the shaming poster witnessed one too many requests for help going unanswered?
Adding a stroke of genius
Let’s unpack this sweeping suggestion for improving libraries further. What of teaching ability? I advise my students to make sure they take courses in user instruction and technology, no matter where they want to work. Delivering instruction should be a part of every professional’s skill set: in a training room, across the desk, in the stacks, on the fly. Maybe it’s time to add creating a short training session or learning module to the interview process for all librarians, not just those in colleges or schools.
Borrowed from Apple, the Genius Bar concept applied to libraries is not new, but it’s a welcome addition to many library settings. David Weinberger, in “The Library as Platform” (ow.ly/tBDAe), notes that the Genius Bar might be one of many channels for users to interact with librarians. Libraries such as DOK Delft and others have tried various permutations of walk-in tech assistance.
John Pappas, branch director at the Primos Branch of the Upper Darby Free Library, PA, told me, “I have drop-in digital device clinics once a week for four hours at my branch.” Kenley Neufeld, library director at Santa Barbara City College, CA, countered my call for Genius Bar examples with, “Yes, it’s called the reference desk. No appointment necessary.” Touché, Kenley. The libraries that have rebranded their reference desks—I’m reminded of the “Ask Here” signage at Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN—have already discovered that people are attracted to such nonlibrary phrasing.
Who could it be now?
So in the vision shared at Librarian Shaming, librarians are out the door and tech-savvy, user-focused, service-driven folks would replace them. Who could that be? More librarians? Better librarians? The statement, while shocking and a bit frustrating, may be rooted in truth. Isn’t this the evolution we are seeing in libraries?
If you’ve done any future visioning or strategic planning of late, haven’t the conversations turned to more active, technologically enhanced spaces and services? More classes, more space for working with creation tools, more time spent showing people how things work? Is this what people are asking for? Consider this option in our evolution: we might continue to hire degreed librarians who will be managing projects and guiding services but also some very specialized folks—maybe they’ll have a library degree, maybe they won’t—who work with users and new technology in these collaborative spaces.
How to teach tech leaders
LIS curricula must keep up as well. At San José State University (SJSU), CA, School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), we’re offering a new class entitled “Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries,” taught by Monica Harris, deputy director, Schaumburg Township District Library, IL. Her syllabus, focused on participation and creativity, runs from digital creation spaces to the Maker movement to a module called the Importance of Informal Learning. Another unit highlights Robotics and Electronics: Arduino, Sensors, and LEGO.
This semester in my class the Hyperlinked Library, discussion has turned to the changing roles of librarians in the evolving library. One student responded to an early lecture, asking, “Do we even need librarians?” Exploring similar ideas to the post above, the student continued, “To me, a professional who advocates for people to learn, access, and create knowledge on their terms sounds like a pretty respectable calling.” I think so, too.
The post that inspired this column isn’t a diatribe, steeped in negativity. It’s a call to arms to keep thinking strategically about our spaces, services, and learning.