For new librarians entering the field of academic librarianship, there is an expectation to continue and evolve the Participatory Service methodology. Luckily, it is not a forced expectation, but rather one of excitement and, dare I say, glee. The ability of academic libraries to effectively reach and engage students in the research process is palpable and librarians are responsible. Librarians entering the profession are happily challenged with continuing this new era of constant change, experimentation, innovation, and evaluation.
This group of new and future librarians is so inspired and focused on this new culture of libraries and librarians. And I must admit, it’s partly selfish. We are desperate for a career, for a purposeful and fulfilling career—one that reaches users in effective ways and offers services and methods of evaluation that will overcome the intimidating nature of the academic library. Some of us may have gotten to this place from experiences with former academic libraries. Some of us may want to overcome and change the current brand of academic libraries—but the reasons why don’t necessary matter at this point. Because now, we are part of a tribe and we do intend to make this profession our own – isn’t that the point of a career? We have made our spaces online and in classrooms and will remain supportive and collaborative through our professional careers. We intend to follow the principles of librarianship combined with innovative thinking and experimentation detailed in the Library 2.0 methodology to encourage better services for users and a more fulfilling work environment for us.
The Dark Side
There is, of course, a dark side. For a recent MSLIS graduate, who is looking for an interesting and purposeful career, and has been introduced to innovative professors, interesting theories, Web 2.0 technologies, and thinking about emerging trends, walking into a library stuck in an environment of presenting information with no viable way to reach or engage users will be an immensely frustrating experience. That combined with the intimidation and nervousness of being the new person makes for a complicated and sticky situation. Other library staff may be hostile or passive aggressive if a new employee intends to change their way of doing things—not to mention the daunting task of getting the library administration on board.
To ensure a positive discussion, I would like to add that in no way is this a demonization or negative perspective attributed to more traditional library services. It is only an adaptation that reflects changing user needs. There is no doubt that there is an immense need for academic libraries to brand themselves as a welcoming online and physical space for students to find resources, get research help, study, collaborate, learn, experiment, innovate, have fun, and enjoy a scholarly community. In the article, “A Manifesto for Our Times,” Cohen (2007) writes, “While our users are steeped in a culture that is collaborative, personalized, and open, our library culture tends to be a closed, one-way street. We expect users to accept the library on our terms—to come to our spaces to receive services, and to deal with websites and catalogs that are essentially brick walls. While some libraries are making strides in moving ahead, many other have yet to make a targeted commitment. We have not, as a profession, demonstrated a resilient response to the Web 2.0 phenomenon” (p. 49). Therefore, to a certain degree, some academic libraries can seem like a different culture to students invested in the online world; particularly the ones that don’t offer services to match the users’ needs. Cohen (2007) adds, “Ultimately, librarians become champions of adaptability in order to meet users’ evolving needs” (p. 49).
Creating a “culture of constant and purposeful change” (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007, p. 5) will ensure that libraries remain relevant to their communities—whether staff, faculty, users, or administration. This culture encourages creativity, idea creation, supportive peers, and inspiring mentors. However, it does require a certain amount of buy-in and staff commitment.
Participatory Service methodology will move academic libraries toward physical and online spaces that are open, welcoming, friendly, helpful, approachable, collaborative, transparent, resourceful, strong, engaging, and fun.
For many recent grads, they may require a staff culture that promotes constant and purposeful change and a degree of embedded librarianship in both the online and physical space in future jobs. I know I will. We have seen the way that it could be—from working together on class projects, to finishing the end of the semester in one piece, to getting passionate about a research paper topic, to engaging in online spaces such as class sites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. This is the culture we are embedded in, enjoy, and want to continue through our professional careers—knowledge sharing, collaborative and engaging projects, mentorship, support, and a unified effort to best serve the user community. I’ve realized that collaborative and supportive peer librarians are a great asset to my professional development and my personal learning network. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk; I want to participate in the profession.
Finally, I just want to express another desire for this tribe of new and experienced librarians focused on Library 2.0 principles and technologies. We need help! We need mentorship. We need to be taught the ropes so to speak. We are looking to collaborate with more experienced and more knowledgeable libraries in the field. Please don’t be intimidated by our eagerness. We are in this profession for the same reason you are. We want to help make the academic library a place for learning, research, and collaboration—we just want to take it up a notch.
The tribe and I intend to make this new culture of change, interaction, innovation, services, and technologies the paradigm in academic libraries where students are responsive. Librarianship will remain bright and adaptive with these principles. The users are going to feel and know our eagerness and ability to make the library their space.
There is an article that I keep returning to when I need inspiration after reading about all or any of the problems, concerns, bleak futures, and budget crises facing academic libraries.
“What are libraries? Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are conversations, they are convocations of people, ideas, and artifacts in dynamic exchange. Libraries are not merely in communities, they are communities: they preserve and promote community memories; they provide mentors not only for the exploration of stored memory, but also for the creation of new artifacts of memory” (Schultz, 2006).
Schultz goes on to describe Library 1.0, Library 2.0, Library 3.0, and finally, Library 4.0, the neo-library: Experience. “This will be the library for the aesthetic economy, the dream society, which will need libraries as mind gyms; libraries as idea labs; libraries as art salons. But let’s be clear: Library 4.0 will not replace Libraries 1.0 through 3.0; it will absorb them. The library as aesthetic experience will have space for all the library’s incarnations: storage (archives, treasures); data retrieval (networks—reference rooms); and commentary and annotation (salon). Available as physical places in the library ‘storefront,’ they will also be mobile, as AR overlays we can view (via glasses, contacts, projections) anywhere. Both virtual and augmented 3D reality will enable us to manipulate data via immersive, visual, metaphorical, sculptural, holographic information theatres: the research and analytic experience will merge with drawing, dance and drama…I’ll meet you there” (Schultz, 2006).
And I will meet you there as well. Librarians are charged with continuing the culture of “change and purposeful change.” The path has been carved; now, both new and experienced librarians just need to bring it to life in academic libraries.
Terri Rieck is a graduate student at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, graduating in May 2011. She is also currently interning at Northwestern’s Schaffner Library on the Chicago campus.
Casey, Michael E. & Savastinuk, Laura C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.
Cohen, L. (2007). A manifesto for our times. American Libraries, 38(7), 47-9. Retrieved from OmniFile Full Text Mega database.
Schultz, Wendy. (2006). Web 2.0: Where will it take libraries? Infinite Futures: To a temporary place in time. NextSpace, The OCLC Newsletter (2). http://www.oclc.org/nextspace/002/6.htm