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Embedded librarians operate in a complex network of relationships: with each other, with vendors of products and services,...
Here’s a picture of the traditional role of the reference librarian. It starts with the information seeker, the person who...
For me, that picture of the traditional reference librarian no longer works. We need a new vision of our role. We need a n...
Here are a couple data points to back up my assertion that indeed we have been disrupted. First are the 20-year service tr...
Next, in public libraries, the trend hasn’t been this sharp at all, but given the dramatic increase in visits, the ratio b...
So we need a new picture. I’d like to propose one, and I’m calling it the new net- centric librarian. I don’t mean net in ...
Let’s look at a couple of these relationships in more depth, starting with the relationship between community and informat...
Next is the relationship of librarians with information resources. The strength of this relationship is a big part of what...
Finally there is the relationship of the librarians with the community. In a sense, this relationship is the payoff. After...
So when we picture the reference librarian in this new model, we fulfill the definition of the term “net-centric” from Wik...
I want to say a bit about the relationship of the net-centric librarian and the embedded librarian. I see the work I’ve do...
The transition from traditional reference librarianship to net-centric librarianship is already underway. There are exampl...
I want to suggest that the transition to the net-centric, embedded model requires us to re-think and adapt some of our mor...
So we have a lot of discussion and work to do to spread and develop this net-centric model. Updating basic aspects of how ...
Some of you are no doubt already building this future. Others, I hope, will begin, maybe as a result of this conference. E...
Here are the credits and references for the material on the slides. 
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The New Net-Centric Librarian

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This presentation was given at the 23d Annual Conference on Libraries and the Future, sponsored by the Long Island Library Resources Council, October 24, 2014.

Embedded librarians operate in a complex network of relationships: with each other, with vendors of products and services, and most importantly with diverse members of the communities they serve. As their professional lives become centered on these networked relationships, instead of the library, they may find themselves redefining fundamental values and principles of librarianship, including the nature of service, the identity of the library as an institution, and the role of librarians in the community.

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The New Net-Centric Librarian

  1. 1. Embedded librarians operate in a complex network of relationships: with each other, with vendors of products and services, and most importantly with diverse members of the communities they serve. As their professional lives become centered on these networked relationships, instead of the library, they may find themselves redefining fundamental values and principles of librarianship, including the nature of service, the identity of the library as an institution, and the role of librarians in the community. 1
  2. 2. Here’s a picture of the traditional role of the reference librarian. It starts with the information seeker, the person who needs to find something out. The information seeker runs to the librarian / gatekeeper, who knows how to find information. Sometimes people recoil from the word “gatekeeper”, so we also use words like “gateway”, or “intermediary”. Whatever word we use for this, we picture the end result as the information seeker getting the information they need, thanks to our gatekeeper gateway intermediary reference librarian. As Richard Rubin says in his widely used textbook, Foundations of Library and Information Science, “The library’s role has traditionally been as a disseminator, an intermediary between the users, distributors, and creators.” (p. 9) 2
  3. 3. For me, that picture of the traditional reference librarian no longer works. We need a new vision of our role. We need a new picture. The reason is that our traditional operational model has been disrupted. Pictured here are first, Clayton Christensen, who popularized the concept of “Disruption” in his 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Then there are two innovators whose inventions have exerted a powerful disruptive force on traditional librarianship and many other professions and industries. They are Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the hypertext transport protocol and hypertext markup language, and Marc Andreessen, who wrote Mosaic, the first graphical web browser. 3
  4. 4. Here are a couple data points to back up my assertion that indeed we have been disrupted. First are the 20-year service trends from the Association of Research Libraries. They show a 69% drop in reference transactions by member libraries from 1991 to 2012. (It’s the pale green line; the lowest one on the chart.) During the same period, circulation has declined by 44%. 4
  5. 5. Next, in public libraries, the trend hasn’t been this sharp at all, but given the dramatic increase in visits, the ratio between visits and reference transactions has been getting higher and higher. In other words, people aren’t depending on reference help from the librarian nearly as much as they used to. This is borne out by the recent Pew Center survey report comparing attitudes of people under 30 with those over 30. There’s dramatically less importance attached to reference assistance, and a feeling of do-it-yourself sufficiency. This gap was statistically significant, and it was the widest gap between the age groups of those presented in the study. 5
  6. 6. So we need a new picture. I’d like to propose one, and I’m calling it the new net- centric librarian. I don’t mean net in the sense of the Internet – though the internet is a significant enabler for the vision. Rather, I mean the network of human relationships that surround the librarian. This idea is actually based on a 21-year-old article by Michel Bauwens, who was employed as a corporate librarian in Belgium in the early 1990s. Bauwens’ term for the new librarian was “cybrarian”. The piece is entitled, “The Cybrarian’s Manifesto” and it caused quite a stir at the time, though it seems to have been forgotten since. Bauwens wrote: “They [the cybrarians] will be networked in a three-fold manner: first of all amongst each other, second with the teams mentioned above, third to a network of outside information providers (other cybrarians and experts on the Internet, information brokers).” 6
  7. 7. Let’s look at a couple of these relationships in more depth, starting with the relationship between community and information resources. This acknowledges what we already know to be true: people have access to information without depending on the librarian as gatekeeper. This is one of the fundamental disruptions that has occurred. We librarians lost our monopoly on information access. 7
  8. 8. Next is the relationship of librarians with information resources. The strength of this relationship is a big part of what the librarian contributes to the community. It’s not that we are the gatekeepers of information, but we are – or should be – the most information literate members of the community. That means we are likely to see the information dimensions of community needs better than most others. It means we are likely to have the greatest skills to obtain and manipulate the information to meet community needs. 8
  9. 9. Finally there is the relationship of the librarians with the community. In a sense, this relationship is the payoff. After all, our mission is to benefit the community by applying our information skills. The librarian relationships we have and the information resource relationships we have all serve this mission. This is where we bring our skills to bear – not as gatekeepers but as collaborators. We bring an important element of cognitive diversity to any initiative we join and to any team we participate in or lead. But I’m not saying that we set ourselves up as quote unquote “the experts”. That would be just another form of gatekeeping and it wouldn’t work. As we work with the community, we learn as well as teach. 9
  10. 10. So when we picture the reference librarian in this new model, we fulfill the definition of the term “net-centric” from Wikipedia: The Net-Centric Librarian is “…participating as a part of a continuously evolving, complex community of people, devices, information and services…” 10
  11. 11. I want to say a bit about the relationship of the net-centric librarian and the embedded librarian. I see the work I’ve done on embedded librarianship as one aspect of the concept of the net-centric librarian. An embedded librarian is one who develops strong working relationships with members of a team or community; shares responsibility for achieving its goals; and makes customized, highly-valued contributions to the team. A net-centric librarian is also doing that, while bringing to bear those other network ties with information resources of all kinds and with other librarians. 11
  12. 12. The transition from traditional reference librarianship to net-centric librarianship is already underway. There are examples in all types of libraries. It starts with the new picture that locates the librarian in this network of relationships. The picture changes our thinking, and as we think differently, we act differently. 12
  13. 13. I want to suggest that the transition to the net-centric, embedded model requires us to re-think and adapt some of our more cherished principles. Here are six that I have in mind particularly: •We must replace traditional transaction-oriented reference with relational information counseling and guidance •We must emphasize being proactive, not just responsive •We must transcend our emphasis on access and also provide interpretation •We must participate in teams, groups, and communities, not confine ourselves to one-on-one interactions •We must be willing to acknowledge the priorities that we already set in meeting the needs of our communities •We must go beyond service and see ourselves as partners, sharing responsibility for outcomes with those who need us 13
  14. 14. So we have a lot of discussion and work to do to spread and develop this net-centric model. Updating basic aspects of how we’ve done our job for the last 100 years will not be easy. However, if we keep in mind this image of the net-centric librarian in a network of relationships with other librarians, information resources and providers, and most of all with the groups and agencies in our communities. 14
  15. 15. Some of you are no doubt already building this future. Others, I hope, will begin, maybe as a result of this conference. Either way, we can’t predict the future – but we can build it. 15
  16. 16. Here are the credits and references for the material on the slides. 16

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