Bill Mayer, University Librarian at American University here in Washington, DC, gave a colloquium presentation last week on academic libraries in the 21st century. It was a terrific presentation, and the video will be available on the Catholic University School of Library and Information Science website soon. I recommend it!
One of the themes of Bill’s vision was “Partnership.” I agree — I think it’s a key concept for innovative, effective librarians.
After the colloquium, though, I got to thinking about the difference between Partnership and Service. Now, service is a hallmark of librarianship at its finest. As a profession, we pride ourselves on our “service ethic”. It’s part of that altruism that goes along with professionalism.
But isn’t Partnership something different? It is to me. When I think of Service, i think of a one-way relationship. The customer asks, the librarian provides. But Partnership is a relationship of mutual and shared responsibility. It’s a state of being in the same boat, of succeeding or failing together. If we are partners, we give and get, and we both take responsibility for the outcome.
Seems to me that Partnership, not Service, describes the relationship that the embedded librarian needs to develop vis a vis others (note: I won’t call them customers, because that implies the service relation). And in building the relationship, the embedded librarian gives as much weight to what she needs from the partner as to what she offers to the partner.
So maybe it’s time to transcend our traditional notions of service, and focus more on library partnerships.