If They Close the Library …

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“If they close the library, how will they know they even have a librarian?” I’ve heard this statement before, and I heard a variation on it again yesterday, in a conversation about information services at a nonprofit organization. I wonder if it’s still a widespread concern among librarians. If it is, that’s sad, and troubling.

It implies that the visibility and value of the librarian come from the size of our domain, the number of volumes, the square footage, the listing in the office directory. In the age of information ubiquity, that attitude is the gateway to irrelevance.

Now, I do believe there are plenty of contexts in which the physical library is important and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But even in those contexts, we have to start with the question, what does the community need from us? If the answer includes a physical library, fine. If the physical library needs a book  collection, fine. But in other contexts, the answer will be that the community no longer relies on a physical library space, or collection. And regardless of the answer, librarians must demonstrate that they add value by applying their unique professional expertise, not only as custodians of buildings and collections. In those cases, the space and collections are the platform, not the pinnacle.

So, here’s my answer to the opening question: “Because the librarian is going to get out there and connect with the community and contribute to its members by applying the skills of librarianship!”

What’s yours?

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3 Responses to “If They Close the Library …”

  1. Fotini Says:

    I completely agree! Times are changing and we have to adapt in order to continue to provide services to a community. I believe that a library as space will not get extinct, people will keep coming to socialise and attend events. However, the librarians need to get out of this physical element and engage with the public in innovative ways. It’s a different role we have to play now.

  2. Kimberly Hoffman Says:

    Speaking as an academic librarian “misplaced” last year by a branch library closing – they know they have a librarian because I learned to reach out and meet all new faculty members; I asked each department chair if I could address their professional society meetings; I carefully target the faculty I provide instruction for – to aid me in spreading the word, before I send all-email-lists ; I have scheduled vendor training in their building…and they came. Yes, it takes imagination and effort and being responsive to email reference in a timely manner. I’m open to all new ideas on how to “get in the flow of users.” See Rutgers article April 2014 http://crln.acrl.org/content/75/4/182.long

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