The Changing Library

3 Oct

In an interview for a library position this year, the principal went on a tangent about how he doubts the future existence of libraries in schools. It was a strange conversation to be having considering the context, but there it was nevertheless. The fact that my current library course is using a textbook that refers to many online resources illustrates the point that libraries are no longer book houses. The future of libraries is not in jeopardy, it is the future of our practices that is.

For the first year that my husband and I were married, he rearranged the kitchen shelves usually once a month. Often I wouldn’t discover it until he was out and I was in the middle of baking some cookies and I couldn’t for the life of me find the sugar. To me the change was disconcerting; to him it made more sense. Why couldn’t the sugar go into another cupboard. After this happening many times we finally found a way that worked for both of us. However, it meant that we both had to change how we thought a kitchen should function and be willing to try new things.

In Pivots for Change: Libraries and Librarians by Buffy J. Hamilton (Library Media Connection, May/June 2010), Hamilton urges librarians to undergo the same sort of change. She argues that, not only will a change help to ensure our importance as part of the school learning community, but we may develop better practices as part of the change. When my husband was trying to rearrange the kitchen, he never suggested that instead of the space functioning as a kitchen, it should instead function as a bedroom. That would have been ludicrous. At the end of the year of reorganization, the space is still a kitchen but it is used slightly differently than it was before.

Similarly, Hamilton feels that libraries are still places that should exist, but they should take what they do and change part of it. Her inspiration was a post by Seth Godin called “Pivots for Change.” Succinctly stated, Godin asserts that “Changing everything is too difficult” and he provides a list of ways to change part of what you do but not all of it. For example, “Keep your customers, but change what you sell to them” or “Keep your products, but change the way you market them.”

Seth Godin is not a librarian, he is a marketing and business expert who has written many books on the subject. In other words, he knows what he is talking about when it comes to selling a product. In today’s day and age, libraries are a product. They cost money, use resources and have to be sold to students, staff and the community.

Hamilton recognized the wisdom in Godin’s instructions for change and has applied his model to the library. Libraries are places to find information and we have historically done that through the use of text sources. Rather than changing that completely, libraries should remain a place to find information but should use alternate sources.

Hamilton’s stance encourages students to make informed choices for their learning. She encourages the creation of personal learning networks, where students learn to find information in sources online that can be easily access from any location. The job of the librarian remains the same – we are still expected to help them find resources and access the information – but the source of the information has changed.

Hamilton gives many examples of changes that librarians can make, but none of them call for our position as information specialists to be drastically altered; we may just need to find different ways to deliver the information. As she suggests, blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, YouTube and other social networking sites are now becoming sources of information. In the past, we may have dismissed these sources as unreliable and not authoritative, but, as they develop, there may be merit there. I must say that I find this hard to argue; when I became a librarian, the first thing that I did was find some blogs that I could learn from. These blogs are not peer-reviewed and I would not use them as my only source, but I can still learn from them.

Two points in Hamilton’s article that really struck me are areas that I have been thinking quite a bit about lately: website use and transliteracy.

Hamilton encourages maintaining a welcoming and wonderful library environment but also extending that environment to the web so that the library website is just as welcoming and as strong a resource for students. This is something that I think needs to be addressed in the school that I work at. Often I want to focus on the physical environment because that I what I see when I am at work but the internet presence is vital as well. This is a change that I believe is necessary for the success of my library in its usefulness for students. Hamilton lists widgets, tutorials and resource links as ways to provide helpful tools for student use. While I only have a basic understanding of many of these, I know that they are devices that I enjoy on the websites that I visit. It only makes sense for me to provide services that I use to the students if I expect them to make use of the library website.

Transliteracy is “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media.” I believe that this is something that teachers have always wanted for their students but now there are many more ways for students to “read, write and interact.” Students are expected to read books, reference materials, newspapers, websites, social networking sites, blogs, and many other sources. As teachers we have to help them develop their ability to use these sources in their daily life and in the future. This is a huge job since many teachers and librarians are only developing their own transliteracy as well.

While Hamilton gives some other suggestions of ways to change, I think these are the two that I am going to focus on for this term. They tie in to each other and I feel like they are manageable goals for the first term of this year. As for this article, I will keep it in my Resource binder and revisit it in a few months. At that time I will assess how I have done on the goal of increasing the usefulness of our library website and helping with the goal of increased transliteracy and I will pick a new focus for the second term. 

After reading Hamilton’s Pivots for Change:Libraries and Librarians I agree that it is easier to change one aspect than a whole program; however, I think that after a few changes my program may look brand new.


One Response to “The Changing Library”

  1. Anne Letain October 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Yes, change is inevitable…but sometimes recognizing the need to change is hard work. My experience tells me that there are many administrators on both sides of the fence – from the informed to the ignorant.

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