Librarians in the Digital Age: Part 2

After working at the New Jersey library media conference, and then another TechForum in Seattle, I will have an opportunity to participate in a leadership summit in Chicago, organized by the School Library Journal. This will be a working conference, attempting to map out a route for libraries and librarians as they move into an unpredictable future. I will have a couple of minor opportunities to contribute ideas, but most of my participation will be in conversations.

I have ideas, of which some of you are already familiar. But I would like to start this conversation today, by asking you to comment on this blog, your answers to the following question.

What happens to libraries and librarians when virtually all of the information that we need on a daily basis is only a mouse-click away?

I sincerely look forward to your ideas.

Inju, “Radical Militant Librarian.” Inju’s Photostream. 22 Dec 2005. 29 Oct 2006 <>.

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19 thoughts on “Librarians in the Digital Age: Part 2”

  1. Just as big oil companies like Exxon and Texaco need to realize that they are actually in the energy business, rather than the oil business…so librarians must realize that they are in the information business, not the book business.

  2. All of the information we need IS only a mouse click away — it’s not a matter of WHEN. Of course, the best is not always free — and finding the best free information requires … good gosh, I don’t think this has to be rehashed here.

    I hope that there are a good number of librarians presenting in Chicago. I bet some of them still remember that they are in the information business (chuckle). I bet many are doing a great job of mapping their way to the future — and it may not seem as unpredictable to them as one might think. In fact, I would suggest that the future is staring us in the face shouting, “Here I am!” I bet librarians are listening.

    My K-3rd graders already recognize that “information” is shared via audio, video, text, and images — combined to tell stories more compelling and accessible than text alone. My goal is to ensure that they become “active” and discriminating rather than passive and naive viewers, listeners, and readers.

    Pay my plane ticket and give me a few meals — I don’t eat much — and you can hear it from the trenches.

    Hugs to all,


  3. When all of the information we need is just one click away I envision a world in which those that have not learned how to navigate that information as being lost. Without a knowledgeable gatekeeper or guardian (think Tron here) they will be lost and completely incapable of competing in the near flat world of tomorrow. Our best hope is to teach our students to as savvy around information as librarians, so that they aren’t forced to carry one around with them in their back pocket (terribly uncomfortable) to succeed in the world.

  4. Librarians will need to start teaching informational literacy skills as they apply to the digital world. Primarily how to gather, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and even create information.

  5. To a certain extent it depends on what kind of library we are talking about. If you are in a school library (I hope there are still some in the future) then you will probably do what you are doing today – some information literacy skill teaching, some literature teaching and so on. Public libraries on the other hand will probably continue to provide casual reading, special events like author visits, and non-fiction for those who like to read by the fire about other people/ places etc.
    The information that is “a click away” is the just in time information we need to do our jobs or merely to answer a whimsical question. My guess is that as Sarah said above – the best information isn’t necessarily free and the libraries will start subscribing to information databases that are not simply “a click away”.
    With the info. lit. skills a librarian should have I don’t think they will be going away any time soon. Maybe we’ll even start paying them what they are worth 🙂 .

  6. I think there will always be a place for a good book (or a trashy book while you are snuggled up in your bed on a rainy evening) but that is because I love books so much. However I think libraries have a very important part ot play (especially school librarians) in helping our children learn how to discern between useful information and that which is not. To learn to check sources and to realise much presented is from a particular viewpoint. Information is only a click away if you know how to ‘find’ that information. I think our school library needs to be a place where people want to gather (as now) to enjoy language/books and to find information whether that be hard copy, digital, audio etc.

  7. Our librarian’s job title has already changed to “Media Specialist.” She’s still in charge of all the books in the now renamed Media Center, but now she’s also in charge of videos, DVDs, the school’s website, the morning announcements (which we put on closed circuit TV with student announcers) and our Accelerated Reader program, which has the students using the computers in the Media Center after every book they read.

    But to better answer your question: Even if information is only a click away, it’s her job to help with which clicks are worthwhile. She is not just a bookkeeper, but a manager of information. This translates into a gatekeeper for the younger grades and a facilitator for the older ones.

  8. A lot of the comments have already covered what I would have said (I should wake up earlier!). I’d just like to reiterate that librarians will need to evolve in their philosophies to encompass a focus on digital literacy. In addition to this librarians will always be needed to navigate the plethora of search terms in electronic databases to get accurate hits (rarely any of us can do this effectively without some help from a librarian).

    I’ve been reading the following paper. You might find it interesting, Dave.


  9. I still have found it hard to snuggle up with my laptop to read a good book and I am sure I am not alone.

    I don’t think books will go out of print, so to speak, but I think libraries, both public and school libraries are evolving to meet the needs of their patrons. They provide books but also, computers and internet access. They provide the people (librarians) who guide people in their research, whether this is online via e-mail or chat rooms or in person at the library and they provide services like story times and author visits. We school library media specialists teach students not only about literature, but also about searching and the internet. How to organize what they find on the web and also how to weave their way through the tangled mess that the web can sometimes be. Oh and more importantly, we teach the TEACHERS about all this new technology stuff!

    As long as libraries continue to embrace change and new technologies, I think that libraries will continue to exist.

    Media Specialist
    K-8 catholic school

  10. I love technology, love being able to have information at my finger tips, and use it all day everyday! However, I (like Kathy) love to curl up in my recliner and read a good book – in fact I have one at home right now that I am nearly finished with and can’t wait to navigate the final twist and turns that I know await me. Reading a book on the computer does not make me feel the same way. I do not want students to miss out on those experiences! They are already on the information fast track with most things they do in their lives, so we do not want them to miss the moments when they can slow down and lose themselves in turning the pages of a riveting book! (Harry Potter has done that for many kids.) Librarians/Media Specialists will need to (and already do, in many cases) balance the need for up-to-date, easy-to-acess information and the value of simply reading a good book! We all need to be sure that we are using the appropriate tool for the need/situation. Technology is wonderful, but it is not the best answer in every single instance.

  11. Already a lot of great comments here!

    I think libraries will continue to provide community and that librarians will continue to be “connectors” and “mavens” as the Tipping Point puts it.

    I think libraries need to pay attention to the physical space as well as their services, because to be a community, you have to create a space people will continue to want to be in. (more like Barnes and Noble or your local bookstore with good signage, comfy chairs, coffee spaces, gathering spots)

    I agree with the comments above about school librarians–I do actually think our role as guides through information literacy become more important, not less.
    Students need to knwo how to sift, how to weigh authority, how to keep up with the deluge of information and how to use a lot of different tools so they can be adaptable. Teachers do too, and librarians are often curriculum guides and campus leaders in terms of bringing new tools and technologies into the school.

    Library catalogs will get more “amazonized” with reader recommendations and book excerpts and be readily available anywhere. Databases will become more seamless and simplify their interfaces so they aren’t so clunky (otherwise students will stop using them altogether, I fear…)

    I think as a profession, librarians need to embrace the future with enthusiasm.
    And still, libraries function as a great democratizer for our country where anyone can have access to a computer, have access to books and be part of a learning community.

    Sometimes I think it is like the old argument that movie theaters would die with the advent of the vcr, or that bookstores would fade out with the advent of books online, yet none of that has happened. Theaters are packed with people on weekend nights, and bookstores have created themselves as community gathering spots, and welcomed readers, much like libraries. Gone is the bookstore where you were scolded for thumbing through a magazine!
    I already said this but I do think libraries need to really focus in our their physical space and remove obstacles for users.

    Good luck in Chicago! We just met in Austin at Tech Forum and already you’ve been all over the country since then!!

  12. Libraries of all types need to continue to evolve to serve the information needs of all of their patrons, but I do not think that libraries will or should disappear. For example, I have an interest in genealogy and can access OCLC from my home to learn where specific titles are available, but I still must visit at least some of those libraries since not every resource is available through interlibrary loan (not as common throughout the country as it is in Illinois).

    School librarians who teach children to love books and ideas are involved in using blogs to allow children to share their ideas gained from reading and “discussing” what they have read, are involved in teaching children how to evaluate the authenticy of what they have found in all sources, most especially sites such as Wikipedia, are involved in advancing the learning process in whatever manner possible whether it involves using the tried and true book sources or the latest type of technology.

    School administrators, many teachers and probably parents still get hung up on the idea of library as a physical space. I would argue that while we still need a physical space we also need to expand our thinking of library to be wherever information exists and librarian as that person trained to help users learn to successfully navigate through that information to produce new ideas and new information to make the world more understandable.

    Thanks for allowing all of us to share our thoughts!

  13. School libraries are extending beyond the physical space through the connectivity in classrooms, creating an almost magnetic force field attraction back to the place that can provide direction, understanding and use of information. Connectivity in the classroom is like having a force field that is drawing the classroom teacher ever more to the information expertise that the librarian can offer. I see more classroom teachers wanting to include the school library media specialist, because many realize that even though the information is only a click away they want to turn to the “bearer of all information” to guide them, assure them, etc. I believe our role (school librarian) has not changed, just our environment. Mark Prensky talks about the digital natives that thrive on role playing using video games. It’s my opinion that creativity and imagination is the pathway to solving problems for yourself and that through creative play people have been solving problems for eons, and the digital environment is just different. I have always felt my role as a school librarian was to ignite those problem solving skills through creativity no matter what the environment. Unfortunately too many schools are handcuffing us from making the transition to the digital world.

  14. School media specialists have weathered societal changes very well throughout the years. Their resiliency, creativity, skills set, and their pulse on student needs have helped media specialists to adapt, and their media centers to flourish, some doing so even with inadequate budgets, misinformed administrators and/or overcrowded schools.

    Will “click away information” change the way we do business? It already has. Librarians are teaching digital literacy along with the many other information-related skills needed to be successful. We have always been at the forefront of technology. Slides, films, filmstrips, cassettes, microfiche, TV programming, videocassettes, laser discs … you name it, we’ve used it — for the purpose of locating information. Format is never the issue; content is.

    Media specialists who shy away from technology will need to make friends with it, and media specialists who love the Internet and its potential in education will have to learn to coexist with computer teachers and technology facilitators treading close to what was once solely our turf … the delivery of information.

    Don’t worry about media specialists adapting to change. We’ve always been early adopters of educational technology – whether by choice or by necessity. We are just more critical in our selection of resources than the average technocrat who embraces technology for technology’s sake.

    However, I really would like to see our title changed to information specialist. I was never crazy about changing those overhead bulbs.

  15. The problem is ALL the information is a click away. Librarians are needed to teach students how to stay afloat in the information tsunami. Understanding how to set criteria for accuracy, authoratativeness, and relevance. (The last being one that is frequently overlooked by students who want instant answers and don’t know how to sort through the overabundance of results.) I expect the future will bring software that increasingly lets us define our information needs profiles — but defining that will probably need the assistance or instruction from a librarian.

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