Lunch with Lynda (2/3): Librarians in the 21st Century

So continuing on the lunchtime themes from yesterday, we also had a good talk about what librarians are and could be. Again, this is a topic that I’ve been ruminating on for a while, and Lynda always sheds good light on things like this.

Here’s the basic idea:

Over time, librarians have evolved from being servants who did what people asked to being service-focused and trying to anticipate the needs of our users and best meet them. I think one potential path the profession could take is to transition from a general trend of being service-focused to being more of a collaborator.

I believe in this very strongly. In an ever increasing information environment, the ability to navigate it, to use it to its full capacity, and to even know what types of information are available (“what?” you can imagine some faculty saying, “you can search phrases across an entire corpus of books?”) is growing more complex but also more important. In an information environment that is changing so rapidly, it makes sense to include an information expert on any team.

Further, once a work has been completed, it’s increasingly complicated to think about publishing it. There are traditional routes, which simplify things if tenure is a possibility. But what about ideas that aren’t quite ready for “real” publication? What about people who are philosophically aligned with open access? What about people who have tenure and care more about getting the most people to read the work possible rather than getting it published in the most prestigious journal? Again, librarians are particularly well suited to contribute to the discussion in this space. (That being said, I realize it’s a bit controversial at this point as to what a scholarly communication librarian’s role is in this space. It’s possible, though to imagine evolving into an advisory model.)

We’re also pretty useful in the classroom. Embedded librarians can add an entirely new level of depth to a class. Even if not embedded, librarians can help faculty identify really useful works to support their class. These can be publicly available, through the library, or even rare books and archival material that students might never even imagine looking for on their own. Librarians can help collaborate on assignments. We have lots of good tips for how to make an assignment that’s difficult to plagiarize, and we definitely can help faculty plan the library research part of the assignment to fit with the collections students have access to. And if we don’t have the collections the faculty member wants, through discussions and collaborations we can often identify what they do need and get the source for future use.

Librarians also tend to be pretty good at groking new information technologies and thinking about how they can be useful for collaboration, sharing information, teaching, and other standard academic practices. Seven years ago, if you wanted to know about blogs, you could ask a librarian (when much of the country still wasn’t entirely sure what blogs were…or at least were snickering at the name if it was mentioned). The same went with wikis, Twitter, Facebook for business purposes, etc etc etc.

I feel so strongly about this concept that I love it when I get a chance to speak on the topic:

I am of this mind because of my personal situation. My library dean has done wonderful things for the university and this library and one of those is positioning us to be leaders on campus. We’re still clearly service focused (as our mission states), but many people on campus think of us as partners and collaborators rather than just a service provider. Beyond that, our former provost also stated publicly–a number of times–that we are partners and collaborators on campus. So I’ve grown up as a professional in an environment where we’re solidly in the collaborator space.

I realize that is actually a bit of a luxury. That some libraries are solidly in the service-focused space, and that some libraries might have people stuck in the servant space. And I won’t say that the collaborator space is the easiest space to be either. It’s certainly more self-directed, but it can also be a lot of work. Especially when maintaining a high level of service-focused work as well. But, as I so often hear and also agree with, when you have increased rewards, you often have increased responsibility, and that is certainly the case in the collaborator space.

When I speak on this topic, I often hear from people that the idea is nice and certainly important as we try to redefine what a library is, but how in the world do you transition a library? That is the big question. I think in the case of my institution, it was a matter of incredibly high service for a sustained period of time and gradually introducing areas where we could really lead. (We were the first on campus to offer blogs and wikis for example.) I think it probably depends a lot on individual campus culture, administrations, and library priorities as well. In fact, I think there are a number of blog posts and research projects to be done on this very topic. (But at a minimum, I’d suggest the Value of Academic Libraries Report to get started.)

Whew! So that’s idea two. Hopefully I’ll get idea three blogged by the beginning of next week!

What a Week

Some weeks are crazier than others, and last week was certainly that for me. I’m still catching up with email, and just now getting my feet on the ground. Even with that, it’s awesome to get so much taken care of in such a short amount of time. In the spirit of A Day In The Life, here’s how my week shaped up:


  • Submitted six presidential grant requests to my library’s collection management staff, to help match our collections better to faculty needs.
  • Attended Provost’s faculty talk.



  • Relearned Gobi, again. Input all potential orders so that I could begin to weed them.
  • 2 hours at the reference desk.



  • Led the first few minutes of the Librarian Teaching class, turned it over to Roz for the second half.
  • Dashed off to the Strategic Planning Committee for Innovation in Technology and Information meeting to give this presentation:

  • Talked with a coworker in library school about Web 2.0 tools for one of her assignments.
  • Taught a Latin class how to podcast using the library’s tools.
  • Met with the TLC/an ITG about the Emerging Technology Discussion Group and how to improve it.

And all the other little things that pop up, like grading and helping folks with their ID/Emerging Tech questions. On to the next thing! :) If I owe you an email, I promise it’s coming soon!

A Friday in my Library Life

Today was moving day!

  • I came in and chatted a bit with Elizabeth at the reference desk one last morning, finished up packing, and checked it a little bit online. No tea. Did vacuum and wipe down all surfaces and drawers.
  • Then, some coworkers helped me cart and carry my things down to the new office. I helped move things around for the others. This was mostly running around for a while.
  • We then met with the LibGuides group. We now have a phase one roll-out plan.
  • Lunch with John at Panera.
  • Back to unpack the office. This took longer than packing did, but I was able to get rid of more stuff, too. The office is a little wider and about as long as my old one, so it’s a bigger place. There are less hiding spaces, so I feel a little messier than before. I’m trying to figure out what to do with the windows, too. When blinds up, people can see in & look at my monitors, which is a little weird. When closed, it’s very claustrophobic. If the actual window is open I can hear what’s going on in the library and get more air, when closed I can listen to low level radio. I have some stuff to figure out in here.
  • I did my regular Friday reading of listservs. I save up all email discussion list email, filtering it through the week, and spend a short amount of time on Fridays skimming the subject lines for things I might have missed through the blogs and twitter streams. This used to take a while, but now most of the good stuff comes in other channels, too, so it’s really fast.
  • I took out some old chairs that we can get rid of, and found a few chairs for my new office table.
  • Headed home at 5, will answer email for the first time today as soon as I get home.

The work-related plans for the weekend include:

  • Work on the book
  • Work on Elon presentations
  • Create presentation for Salem consulting next week

It’s a little funny to me that Library Day in the Life took place in such an unusual week for me (with all the moving), but it just goes to show how all kinds of things happen in library work! I hope to do this at some point in the academic year, too, to show what life is like when teaching, reference hours, and more meetings enter the picture. Probably after the book, though. :)

If you’re interested in another side of my library, one of my colleagues participated, too!

Here are the new digs:
The New Office
The New Office
And, thanks to Susan, it was blogged on the work blog here.