I’ve been asked to write many things in the past for many different venues. But I must say that “liner notes” is a new one for me. Ok, I know that these aren’t literally liner notes, nor am I the only one contributing an essay for this project, but I am writing this to go along with a song so, to me, liner notes this is.
I don’t know where David and Michael got this idea, nor do I have any intimate or secret knowledge about the project itself, but the concept of taking the basic skills a librarian needs to today and putting it to music; genius! So, just what do I think are the basic skills that librarians need today? Let me take a shot at answering that. Of course, I have to do it in my own special way by pointing out what today’s librarian doesn’t need: fear.
I’ve met and trained thousands of librarians in the past fifteen years and what still surprises me to this day is the amount of fear that many of us hang on to. This fear mostly falls into three categories: fear of technology, fear of talking about ourselves, and fear of the word “library”.
Fear of technology
I’m not here to say that technology is the end-all and be-all of the library world. Nor do I believe that eBooks will replace books in the foreseeable future, but technology has been in the library world since the 1960s and it’s here to stay. There are very few practicing librarians in the field today that can honestly say that this “technology thing” is new to them. The particular bit of technology is new, but to tell me that you can do your job better, or at all, without it is proof you’re deluding yourself.
Trouble is, many don’t realize they have this fear. It manifests when they’re using a computer, it stops working, or doesn’t do what they expect, and they freeze. Eventually they call over the “tech person” on staff and ask for help. As one of those “techies” let me let you in on our secret: we don’t necessarily know what to do to fix it but we’re not afraid to try things that just might work. This is the fear we’d like the rest of you to get over.
Fear of talking about ourselves
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’m not the only one screaming it at the top of our lungs: librarians suck at marketing. We’re afraid to talk about ourselves. We know that we do a lot of work for little pay as a benefit to society. Knowing this we somehow believe that everyone else knows that and as a result everyone loves us. Again, that’s just not reality. With the economy they way it is now, libraries are cutting staff, cutting hours, and cutting budgets all the while serving a public with higher demands. All the time wondering why those making these decisions don’t understand that libraries are an investment that is needed in a down economy more than ever.
Today librarians need to get over their fear of tooting our own horns. Otherwise we’ll disappear and may never come back.
Fear of the word “library”
I believe the move from “school library” to “school media center” pre-dates my MLS so I guess there’s not much I can do about that one. But what about the recent news that the Special Library Association was thinking about renaming itself the Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals? Or library schools renaming themselves information schools. Why are we so afraid of the word library? If kids grow up going to the “media center” why would they ever think to go to the public “library”? When someone asks what you do for a living and you answer “I’m a strategic knowledge professional” what sort of response other than a blank stare will you expect?
I’ll admit that there may exist a complete disconnect in the mind of the public between what they think a library is and what a library actually is these days, but instead of getting rid of the word, why don’t we educate them? (See the previously discussed fear.)
Ok, so let me phrase this in a way that I think David and Michael expected from me: the single skill that librarians need today is the ability to not fear. Many of us are on the front lines of dealing with the public every day. They ask us to answer questions we know nothing about yet we don’t fear these questions. What we need to do it remember that and expand it to the rest of our environment.