Participatory Culture: Building the Skills of Library & Museum Professionals

I’ve been looking forward to this session – focused on how we teach future library and museum professionals.

First up, David Lankes, Professor, Director, Masters in Library and Information Science, Syracuse University, School of Information Studies, Syracuse, New York, explored  this statement: The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. He posited that knowledge is creation through conversation. I really appreciate his idea of focusing more on the librarian not the library – fascinating!

Consider this quote from Lankes: “Why showcase culture if we are not enabling conversations about that culture?”


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Nest up was Kidong Bae, ICOM chair of the National Committee of Korea; former President of the Korean Museum Association; Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology, Hanyang University; Director of the Jeongok Prehistory Museum, Gyounggy Province; Seoul, South Korea. He presented thoughts on the changing nature of museums in Korea in relation to social changes. The nature of communication is changing with the impact of participation and sharing. He posited the mission of the modern museum: Communication for all without any barriers between groups and individuals.

Deirdre Prins-Solani, Chair, AFRICOM; Director, Center for Heritage Development in Africa, Mombasa, Kenya, chose to do a bit of storytelling as a means to frame her remarks about the skills needed for museum professionals. She recalled a childhood where she was not allowed to visit museums – she called these “forbidden places.” I got caught up in her stories and found them telling and demonstrative of how important it is to understand the complexities of culture. Notable quote: “We live here but belong to something bigger,” is something museum professionals should understand about the nature of communication technologies in the 21st Century. “Technology can be used as a problem solver.” It can change the way people live. “We should stop deferring our dreams.”

I can’t hep but think of a couple of columns I wrote last year that generated a lot of discussion. Sometimes I think we retain focus on skills and concepts that might not serve our future library leaders. From “Can We Handle The Truth:”

End the disconnect between some LIS schools and the libraries in their institutions. Instead, LIS schools should partner with their institutions’ libraries to form learning laboratories. Professors, librarians, and students must work together to create new models of service and outreach. These models are evaluated and tweaked, and effective practice is reported to the greater community.

Replace “bibliographic instruction” with multichannel delivery (in person, online, at the point of need) of the basics and advanced steps for research. LIS students should learn fewer “subject of the week” resources and focus more on process, critical thinking, and workflow. It’s not just “five databases for finding articles” but social networks and alternative information streams as well.

Increase the value of students’ own personal learning network—they probably have one and don’t even know it. Use Facebook and other info streams to match up similarly focused undergrads and grads to enhance their learning and sharing—and feed into the research process.

Expand liaison programs, where the librarian is housed in the discipline’s school—visible, vocal, and active with faculty. While much current LIS education can prepare people for this, these embedded librarians will also need other skills focused on communication, the specific discipline, and research methods/support.

The library building itself becomes the Commons—as per Georgia Tech and Loyola—where support, technology, and space inspire student creativity. LIS schools must offer coursework devoted to planning, implementing, and evaluating the commons both physically and virtually.

And from  “Stuck in the Past:”

It’s not out of the question to imagine these service models based on community enrichment and building connections. We need a course in library school devoted to teaching people to build spaces both physical and virtual for constituents to come together. We need to prioritize marketing and branding these spaces and services consistently. Doing so will help us in creating, maintaining, and evaluating the Information Commons. The Commons, a vital part of what our spaces can be, is strengthened by each person who makes use of it. The Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public Library, IL, is a perfect example of space devoted to content creation for users. Take a look at “My Family’s History” to see what’s possible (

All of these examples point toward a future work environment for library and museum professionals that breaks down the walls of the institutions and emphasize skills based on conversation and participation. Technology is just one part. Heart and humanity should be at the core.

This post is a reflection/response to questions posed at the Salzburg Global Seminar program Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture, exploring the challenges, solutions and potential for participatory services within libraries and museums.

Special Thanks to the Salzburg Global Seminar  and IMLS for the invitation to participate in this event.