Librarians in the Digital Age: Part 1

I seem to be on a library/media tear right now. Last week I spoke at the Michigan librarians conference (MAME) and tomorrow it will be the New Jersey conference. Coincidentally, the PEW Internet and American Life project published a PowerPoint presentation delivered by the projects founding director, Lee Rainie, to the Metro – New York Library Council.

Most of the presentation was a fairly standard examination of the history of the digital native generation (PC to WWW to Palm to Napster to iPod to blogs to Wikipedia to to Skype to podcasts to YouTube), and a listing and descriptions of the DN’s choice of personal information devices and how they use them. There was also a sprinkling of Smart Mobs and Long Tail.

What caught my attention was the final few slides, where Rainie listed ten reasons why the future can belong to librarians. I’m listing them here, and inserting some comments from the perspective of someone with no formal knowledge of library science, but 25 years of experience in exploring the emerging digital information landscape.

  1. Nobody knows better than you how to manage information.
  2. Nobody knows better than you how to track down information.

    [One and to are undisputed. However, the library is seen as an institution of walls and the digital realm is something outside of those walls. I suspect that librarians need to figure out how to bring those walls down, or make them effectively transparent.]

  3. Nobody knows better than you about the importance of information standards – common ways to categorize, sort, and act on things.

    [Anyone who is struggling with Google, Wikipedia, hundreds of channels, seventy-five e-mails a day, etc. is starting to get this. However, all of these rules are changing as well, as the digital landscape becomes more participatory (read/write web). Librarians need to become vocal spokesmen and leaders in helping people learn to cope with and leverage the networked, digital, overwhelming information realm.]

  4. Nobody’s word about what’s truthful and what’s important has more credibility than yours.

    [Again, this is uncontested. However, the selling point is that “truthfulness” and “importance” have become fluid, and that the task of gatekeeper has become a personal responsibility, not simply the responsibility of the authorities. New skills. Who’s in a better position to teach them.]

  5. Nobody is in a better position than you to teach people about information and media literacy. Nobody is in a better position to be a watchdog of new systems of sorting information than you.

    [But what is information and media literacy? How many people ever talk about it? I believe that a case needs to be made that there is only one literacy, those basic skills necessary to effectively and responsibly use information to accomplish goals. That literacy has recently become many times more rich and exciting. Again, no one is in a better position.]

  6. Nobody is in a better position to be a watchdog of new systems of sorting information than you.

    [So pay attention and share.]

  7. Nobody is in a better position than you to teach the world about the history and built-in wisdom of credibility-assessment systems.
  8. Nobody is more empowered by professional creeds and training to articulate the rationale for freedom of speech than you.
  9. Nobody is in better shape to play a thoughtful, constructive role in debates about the value of information “property” and the meaning of copyright in an age where it takes a couple of minutes to download a brand new movie on BitTorrent – for free.
  10. Nobody can be as constructive in helping us think through the new norms and even new laws we need to develop about what information is public and what is private.

    [Seven through ten are no-brainers. However, librarians must learn to network. (Have any of you ever subscribed to the LM-NET mailing list for even a week? Sheesh! My hard drive was bulging from the strain.) No one knows better how to collaborate. But you have to get it outside your walls, and become an essential part of your community’s conversation. Get a column in the local newspaper. Attend city council meetings. Build a float for the your town’s most popular parade. Figure out how to make information about the information part of people’s conversations.]

I find it interesting that in selecting a picture for this blog from the Creative Commons collection at flickr, I had to go through three pages of photos before finding information (books). All of the previous pictures were of library buildings — the walls.

Rainie, Lee. “DIGITAL NATIVES:How today’s youth are different from their ‘digital immigrant’ eldersand what that means for libraries.” PEW Internet and American Life Project.27 Oct 2006. PEW Internet and American Life Project. 29 Oct 2006<>.

Dredrewhonolulu, “La Bibliotheque Publique Juive de Montreal.” Dredrewhonolulu’s Photostream. 28 Oct 2006. 29 Oct 2006 <>.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.