March 17, 2018

Jenny Levine | Movers & Shakers 2003

The Shifted Librarian


“My name is Jenny, and I’ll be your information maven today.” That’s the first thing you see on Jenny Levine’s well-known web log, “The Shifted Librarian.” How well-known? Until recently, if you went to Google and typed “Jenny,” her site was the top search result.

But she didn’t create her blog for the glory. Levine has one simple goal: to help us librarians become as technologically adept as our users are so that we can deliver services to them when and where they wish to use them and in their preferred medium and platform. On her blog, Levine regularly posts information about “cool tools,” along with comments about how librarians could use them in their daily tasks. Her blog also links to her Power Point presentation explaining the “shifted librarian” concept.

Levine has come a long way since 1992, when, after getting her MLS, she had to have a friend type her résumé on WordPerfect because she didn’t know how to use the word processor.

She became a convert to the net in that same year, when a patron in her public library asked for a recipe for Irish soda bread; Levine couldn’t find it in her library’s collection, but she found one on Compuserve. She went on to teach the whole staff to use e-mail, gophers, telnet, and Compuserve.

When the World Wide Web came along, Levine was one of the first librarians out there, finding the good stuff and sharing it with her colleagues in training sessions. In 1995, she created the Librarians’ Site du Jour web site, where she reviewed a reference web site in detail every day, to convince librarians that the web was extraordinarily useful for everyday reference and to give them a reason to make visiting the web a daily habit.

When she became technology coordinator at Grande Prairie Public Library District, in 1996, she created and maintained its web site. Thanks to her leadership, Grande Prairie became the first public library in Chicago’s south suburbs to offer public Internet access.

In her current job, providing “vision and leadership regarding emerging technologies…and their integration into library environments” is actually the first item in her job description. Among her many accomplishments, Levine has launched quarterly “technology summits” to keep library system members up-to-date, created user documentation packages and manuals, organized and led a user group on web authoring, and initiated and carried out a grant project to teach web authors about accessibility issues.

Many people who know Levine from her web site and her presentations think of her as a gadget person, but that’s a comparatively recent development. The “shifted librarian” concept came to her when she discovered Napster a few years ago. “Everything clicked into place,” she says. “PDAs, my MP3 player, portable digital music on my various PCs, and there wasn’t a single library that could interact with any of them.”

That’s how she became an information technology evangelist. Whenever she sees new gadgets – Bluetooth-equipped pens, or digital wi-fi cameras, or software that shows you how a web page displays on different kinds of platforms – Levine immediately sees ways librarians can use them. Her web log has convinced many librarians to consider how new technologies might extend services beyond the normal boundaries of place and time.

Maybe the most important thing Levine does for the profession is explain it to the rest of the world. The Shifted Librarian is linked in and read by techies at Lockergnome and Scripting News and other geek watering holes. Her daily musings are read by journalists of all stripes – technology reporters, of course, but also those who cover pop culture, politics, law, intellectual property, and civil liberties. The upside of this is that she’s made people outside our profession realize that librarians are…cool.

The downside could be this: if Levine’s readers go to their own libraries and can’t find all the things she says they could and should be providing, librarians may lose potential patrons.

The time to shift, as Jenny Levine keeps telling librarians, is now.




Current Position: Internet Development Specialist, Suburban Library System, Burr Ridge, IL

Degree: MLS, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1992

Web Sites: The Shifted Librarian (; Jenny’s Cybrary (