When I left the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University and entered the profession, the faculty members did not leave me with answers. They left me with a question, which has driven my career. That question was simply, will libraries exist in the future? At the time, the web was fairly new, and many people argued that libraries had been displaced by this technology. As I entered the profession, this question pushed me forward. Based on the needs of my library, I have followed two paths to answer the question.
First, when I started teaching information literacy sessions for many writing classes, I was surprised at the information choices that students made. This sparked my interest in understanding credibility and authority. The searcher’s sophistication in understanding the processes behind and the purposes for creating information directly impact which search tool to select, how search results are interpreted, and ultimately how sources are used. I have written about this on this blog (see Lost Faith: College Students’ Photoshopification and Information Literacy). As I followed this path, I have written on information literacy in the light of critical pedigogy (see A Radical Step: Implementing A Critical Information Literacy Model, 2004) and in the light of personal epistemology from the social psychology literature (see Information Literacy, Personal Epistemology, and Knowledge Construction: Potential and Possibilities from 2006). To me, the future of libraries is clearly tied to a degree of information literacy skills (or a desire for these skills) in the communities we serve. The library as “knowledge center” for the community is tied in a large part (although maybe not entirely) to the credibility of the resources we provide. In so many words, credibility is part of our competitive advantage.
My second answer to the question driving my career has revolved around the effectiveness of the online library. Our physical spaces remain important, but our virtual spaces bring a potential for delivering services that libraries could never have envisioned two decades ago. One of my first jobs as a librarian was redesigning our library’s website. Around 2004 after our first redesign and around the time we were working on a usability study which would eventually take us to our second redesign, I heard about blogs from Jenny Levine (the Shifted Librarian) at a conference. It was not long after this when I met Michael Stephens at Internet Librarian. Jenny and Michael (and Tame the Web) were instrumental in starting my work with social media and libraries. My interest in how we incorporate social media into our organizations and inspiration from Michael took me to my dissertation topic and an eventual book. As a contributor to TTW, I am always honored to be part of Michael’s work. Of course, it is not a stretch to say that Michael and Tame the Web have been an important part of my work!.
I have always been grateful that my library school faculty left me with a question as opposed to giving me their answers. So, will libraries exist in the future? I have to say that this question still drives me today. Over the last decade and a half,, our profession has evolved and demonstrated that we are more than just storehouses for books. We have provided a multitude of answers to this important question, and if we are to remain vital to the people we serve, we must provide a multitude more.
Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.