Monday, 25 May 2009

Libraries - the big question - are you up for it?


The New Zealand Library and Information Management Journal
I was asked to write the introduction to the April, 2009 issue of the excellent New Zealand Library and Information Management Journal. This is it.

No 1 Fan
"It is a pure pleasure to be asked to write the introduction for this issue. As is known, I am a very strong advocate for libraries, especially the public variety. That said, I'm also a big fan of the big institutional heritage libraries, and live in envious awe of the kind of resources an undergraduate can exact from a tertiary library, especially around access to electronic serials. In short - fan number one that’s me.

Critical Friends
That said, I'm also equally enamored by the UK library consultant Brian Kelly’s notion of 'critical friends'. Not only does it capture the essential notion that the stakeholder community around libraries is bigger than the librarian, it also allows those of us who work alongside the library sector, especially the digital stream, to offer some thoughts and interjections on the current landscape.

Here are some of mine:

Physical and Digital
First, I think the physical library has a vibrant future. This means I celebrate the prospect of beautiful buildings where people can come together and participate in a rich learning environment; where democratic access to knowledge, learning community and heritage is a basic human right.

However, I also believe that an equally robust and innovative digital dimension is essential to ensure the ongoing development of the library as a key institution of civil society.

New Paradigms - social/semantic
Second, I worry that even those libraries and librarians who "get digital" seem to think that digital libraries are a smart mutation of the old paradigm which sees the library as a special place for special people to do special things with special sources.

In contrast, I believe the next generation Internet, parts of which are already around us, will be social and semantic.

This network will be ubiquitous, and will be everywhere: it will play on multiple devices, it will be contextual, personalised, and deeply participative.

Three Challenges
I believe the challenge for the library profession in this emerging space is threefold:

• how to find the will and the resource to make their skills available to this web of participation?
• how to find the will and the resource to make their collections available to this web of participation?
• to understand that "being digital" will be the primary focus of their professional lives, and that the job of the library profession will be to lead not to follow.

Which leaves one more question – are you up for it? "

Full journal, here.
Comments welcome


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