S.R. Ranganathan stated, “Library is a growing organism”. Mariam Webster’s Dictionary defines an organism as “a system with many parts that depend on each other and work together”. Exactly, the library is not a building, it’s not about technologies or software tools, it’s not about books or information sources, in fact, it’s a complex system to nourish knowledge creation. It’s a system which harnesses intellectual capacities, adds value to improve the quality of life and learning. In biological terms, the nourishment could only happen if every entity in this organism is aware of its own strength and the strength which is available within other entities. So, from books to staff to patrons, everything is an entity which is a part of this organism or system. It’s a system where everyone could be considered dependent on each other and contribute towards its growth.
I have joined library profession at a mid-career level and working for Habib University located in Karachi. It is a budding and growing undergraduate university established approximately two years ago.
I have had many insights and realizations during the last year. These realizations and insights are helping me to reflect and grow every day and it’s becoming a strong source of practice for me especially when I know that my role and contribution is critical to the growth of this organism and all the other entities within it. The reflection helped me to come up with following 5 things I must do as a 21st Century Librarian which eventually would help everyone in the system to learn, grow and excel.
First focus on Learning then services
Libraries be of any kind or type, were created to help everyone learn. During the days of inception, these were considered to be beacons of nation building by providing diverse sets of services. Libraries are organisms which not only develop careers but hearts, minds, and souls. Libraries are in the business of supporting learning in the 21st century, therefore, I should focus more on understanding, creating and providing services which can help everyone learn better.
Create diverse set of services instead of one-size-fits-all solutions
Since past few decades, a lot of effort has been placed to understand the human mind. Every mind and a person is unique and learns differently, the brains of 21st Century learners are wired differently. Therefore, I should focus on creating services which help accommodate diverse learning styles. I have to put more time in broadening my own understanding about how learning happens in the digital age and strive for creating innovative services and solutions to bolster learning.
Do not wait for the user, go to them
I admit, gone are the times when librarians were considered important and valuable resource for identification of information sources and resources. This is true for an academic library especially in the 21st century. I have learned that I can only serve better if I build relationships with students, faculty and other members of the learning community. For it to happen, I have to come out of my own silo and become more approachable, accessible and available. I realize that I have to do this setting aside my designation. Whether I am an acquisitions librarian, systems librarian, providing circulation services, responsible for cataloging, engaged in public/reference services, I have to make sure I interact with as many patrons as I can, to understand and serve them better. The interaction could best happen through face to face meeting, on walkways, during lunch hours or it could be done through e-mails and social media tools. As a matter of the fact, the heart of my work is to build relationships and to bring value through the power of connections. Of course, this is also a way to take feedback for improvement on an ongoing basis.
Keep reading and learning
I imagine myself to be in the business of supporting lifelong learning. In order to be successful in this business, I have to be a lifelong learner. I am a source of inspiration for the young minds, therefore, I have to commit to myself every day to reflect and learn something new. I have to read not only about the ideas and possibilities which exist around me to improve my own work and bring new solutions, but to engross myself in literature, self-help and other works which can help me understand myself better. Off course, I have to learn what faculty members are teaching in their classes. I must not shy away from going through course packs and course texts.
Seek mentors, collaborations, and partnerships
Porter Gale has shared a great insight in his book about collaborations i.e. your network is your net worth. If I am isolated and work with I KNOW IT ALL attitude, I may not be contributing to the nourishment of this organism. Therefore, I must seek out ways where I can build partnerships, collaborations and create opportunities for sharing resources and expertise. The very essence of a strong organism or a body is accepting that the diversity is a strength. So keep on exploring ways through which I can bring more nourishment through partnerships. With an open heart and mind, I have to keep sharing and receiving. I have to identify mentors and specialists, who could serve as guides and advisors. I must not forget, that my own team and colleagues are one of the best sources to begin collaboration. By the way, librarianship is all about resourcefulness.
We live in times when rate and pace of change is very fast. The information explosion has altered the way we live, work and learn. Uncertainty is a buzz word when it comes to visualization of future. One of the ways to be at ease with this uncertainty is to take on this challenge of continuous improvement. R.I. Fitzhenry is very right in informing us by saying “Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Do not let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity”.
The libraries worldwide are also changing their shapes and forms. Ross Atkinson in one of his articles states “the new library must be mainly a social gathering place, somewhat noisy, with plenty of coffee” (Atkinson, 2001, p. 9). Librarians are becoming gateways to information, libraries are becoming social learning spaces.
Let us accept the fact that the organizations in this postmodern information society cannot decide to remain stagnant so does an individual. Clayton in Jantz shared “Innovation is not an option but a necessity” (Jantz, 2011, p. 3). So the final insight gained for me is not be afraid of taking risks and keep focusing on continuous innovation and improvement. Honestly, the survival of librarianship profession is my responsibility as well.
Atkinson, R. (2001). Contingency and Contradiction: The Place(s) of the Library at the Dawn of the New Millennium. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52(1).
Duke, L. M., & Asher, A. D. (Eds.). (2012). College libraries and student culture: what do we now know. Chicago: American Library Association.
Jantz, R. C. (2011). Innovation in academic libraries: An analysis of university librarians’ perspectives. Library & Information Science Research, 34, 3-12. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2011.07.008
Porter, G. (2013). Your network is your networth. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc.