June 18, 2018

The Librarian in 2020 | Reinventing Libraries

This is part three of LJ’s series of excerpts from Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library (Scarecrow), edited by Joseph Janes. The essays are reprinted as part of the run-up to LJ’s virtual event, The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries, to be held on October 16.

From Joseph Janes, editor of Library 2020:

Students often ask about the job market—how it’s going, what they can expect, where they might be able to do the work they want, and what sorts of jobs they should seek. This triggers flashbacks to my own days in library school, in the early 1980s, when I thought I would likely either run my hometown public library or be a subject bibliographer in an academic library.

“Subject bibliographer.” If you’ve been around long enough to remember those, you know that there was a certain solidity back then, in terms of what a position was and what the people in them did. Not to mention how you would prepare for them; the sorts of courses, experiences, and backgrounds needed to be a serials cataloger or a systems librarian were well understood. We all knew what was expected of us and, largely, what to expect.

Joseph Janes

Joseph Janes

And we were right—for a while. Over the last couple of decades, and with increasing velocity, professional roles and responsibilities have been moving, shifting, dropping away, and expanding. The job titles and descriptions we see today reflect that. There are positions now that include things that would have been entirely foreign 30 years ago, and no doubt vice versa. I just did a quick look at a few sites and found ads for Digital Initiatives Librarian, Search Analyst, Geospatial Data Curator, Metadata Specialist, User Services Specialist, and Director of Digital Strategy and Technological Integration. Whew. That’s part of the reason I was so intrigued by the approach that Stacey Aldrich and Jarrid Keller took with their essay for Library 2020.

They decided to explore the future through imagined job descriptions. As you read them, you can see fragments of things that look familiar, intermingled with novel and even surprising elements. See if you agree with their premises, and reflect on how your career path has taken you places you might never have expected, and where we’re going from here.

I hope readers have gotten from these excerpts a taste of the range and breadth of vision of these essays. They cover issues from the mundane to the universal, express hopes and fears, warnings and exhortations, and almost certainly raise more questions than they answer. What will the stuff of our collections become? What will our places and spaces need to be like? How will our communities evolve, and how can we serve them most effectively? What sort of leadership and vision will be required to carry all this out? And, perhaps most centrally, who shall we become as a profession?

There’s never been—nor are we ever likely to get—a road map for what comes next. I asked my contributors to begin their essays by filling in this sentence: “The library in 2020 will be…,” and they did splendidly. That’s a fun game to play, so feel free to join in. But—even more important—I urge you to fill in this blank: “My library in 2020 will be…,” with your preferred future, tweet it at #mylibraryin2020, and then work like the dickens to make it happen. Read on!

When we began to think about the future of libraries, we thought it might be interesting to approach the future from the types of jobs that could be in libraries in the next ten years, basing our future descriptions on the following trends: (1) information everywhere, (2) continuing increase in use of mobile and embedded technology, (3) rise of social knowledge, (4) longer living and the emergence of lifestyle design, and (5) integration of robotics into the world.

We invite you to join “Phyllis,” the human-connection expert for northern California, as she reviews five job descriptions. As you read with Phyllis, what picture of the library forms in your mind from the job descriptions? What assumptions are being made about the future? Do you already do some of this work? What is the same? Different?

Phyllis is responsible for mapping the needs of each community to the right people. Her biggest challenge is balancing the robotic and human elements of staffing and public service.

This morning, Phyllis met with a library director to go over some of the latest job descriptions for four open positions. As Phyllis begins to review the job descriptions, she is amused at how similar but different they are from just ten years ago.

Position Title: Embedded librarian

Importance The embedded librarian is responsible for physically and virtually traveling around all communities to catalog all pieces of the environment to be added to the Global Brain Library (GBL). This position is vital for ensuring that all people can use embedded or wearable technology to get instant information about everything in their surroundings. This position also provides network and information assistance to the public while in the field.

Projects The first year of this position will focus on three areas: trees in historic parks, monuments, and government buildings. This position will be expected to identify other gaps in the GBL for future cataloging.

Skills This position requires the ability to:

  • Work outside, in an open environment, and remotely
  • Work virtually in a 3-D environment using avatar to engage colleagues
  • Communicate effectively to gather information and images
  • Use the latest hardware and software for the GBL
  • Implement the latest GBL cataloging and metadata standards
  • Provide network and information assistance to the public
  • Be flexible and continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Position Title: Content packaging librarian

Importance The content packaging librarian is responsible for making dynamic connections among library and community information so that users can easily find data that relates to particular topics and can lead to other beneficial information.

Projects The first year of this position will focus on building social knowledge by packaging community information and creating processes for farming all information in all formats as it relates to governmental meetings. This is a new area and will require close work with the GBL.

Skills This position requires the ability to:

  • Use all formats of information, physical and digital
  • Communicate effectively with all stakeholders and obtain appropriate permissions for using all information
  • Make dynamic connections among all kinds of information as it relates to a topic
  • Use the latest GBL cataloging and metadata standards
  • Obtain feedback from users to determine if content packages are complete
  • Recruit and coordinate content-packaging community volunteers
  • Be flexible and continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Position Title: Robotic maintenance engineer

Importance The robotic maintenance engineer is responsible for ensuring that all public-assistant and stack robots are in good working order. The public assistant robots must have the latest syntax and 3-D holographic avatar software to help patrons. The stack robots must be able to find and retrieve materials to provide to patrons upon request.

Projects The first year of this position will be responsible for daily maintenance and support of all robots and will be required to examine the current models and software to create a draft plan for future upgrades and management.

Skills This position requires the ability to:

  • Manage the hardware and software of first-generation public-assistant and stack robots
  • Communicate effectively with staff and patrons
  • Evaluate and create project plans
  • Manage and train staff working with robots
  • Be flexible and continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Position Title: Lifestyle design librarian

Importance The lifestyle design librarian is responsible for leading a team of librarians who specialize in individualized and customized assistance for public members navigating learning, career transitions, health, and other specific needs. This position provides the human touch to help connect people to the exact resources needed to be successful.

Projects The first year of this position will focus on the systems of delivery of service to the public. Recent surveys indicate that patrons would like more physical meetings to begin their lifestyle design plans. This position will also work with the World Education Network to facilitate connections to personal education plans and build blended-learning opportunities for the community to meet at the library for human connection.

Skills This position requires the ability to:

  • Facilitate and lead a dynamic team of lifestyle design staff
  • Communicate effectively with multiple stakeholders
  • Create supportive communication with patrons
  • Evaluate services and provide continuous improvement
  • Be flexible and continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Position Title: GBL cloud engineer

Importance The GBL cloud engineer is responsible for providing system requirements for the development of application protocol interface (API) web-service protocols, which allow the GBL to interface with other cloud-based brain library’s data warehouses worldwide, increasing capacity and accessibility of information for the public.

Projects The first year of this position will require the GBL cloud engineer to define API web-service requirements based on the GBL’s collection. This will ensure successful interface and exchange of cloud-based data, including geocoding all library data sets for easier discovery and correlation of data to serve the needs of the public better.

Skills This position requires the ability to:

  • Understand API web services and geocoding standards
  • Demonstrate extensive knowledge of GPL cloud holdings
  • Communicate effectively with all stakeholders and obtain appropriate permissions for using all information
  • Use the latest GBL cataloging and metadata standards
  • Be flexible and continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Phyllis was comfortable with these job descriptions and felt confident that she knew the perfect robotic maintenance engineer, someone who’d started out as a librarian, then added robotic care to his skill set. For the other positions she would create info for the Jobstream and other channels.

Joseph Janes is Associate Professor and Chair of the MLIS Program at the University of Washington Information School, Seattle, and creator of “Documents That Changed the World,” a podcast series available on iTunes. Stacey A. Aldrich is Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Jarrid P. Keller is Acting Deputy State Librarian of California.

This article was published in Library Journal's October 1, 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. I love this creative exploration of work developments for libraries, you did a wonderful job of projecting forward and seeing how we can provide all sorts of new value in helping people to navigate the evolving world of information. I would add some jobs for people who ellicit creativity from their community and facilitate engagement with culture and cultural works, like how about a remix/mash facilitator for example

  2. Wearable developers, technologists, designers, telecom and hardware providers are set to attend Wearable Computing Conference 2013 in New York next November 7, the biggest forum on wearable technologies on the East Coast.

  3. I would bet no matter how fast the library systems say they are moving…they will simply be left in the digital dust of the 21st century…Libraries tend to be highly structured & like most institutions, generally proceed at a snails pace…That just won’t cut it in the digital age…It might be likened to running to catch a Japanese bullet train that has pulled out of the station…It just ain’t gonna happen…I like my coffee black. and my information unscreened & unfiltered …So I have decided I will have to do it myself via the Web…You really leave me no other choice.