“New Librarianship” is a buzzword, especially here at Syracuse, but what does it mean? Here’s my take:
New Librarians and people-who-work-in-libraries are two very different things. The latter is a job; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I believe very strongly that libraries need passionate, good people to help fulfill their purpose.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Librarianship” isn’t a job—it’s a vocation. It’s not something you can put away at the end of the day, when you leave the building. Librarianship is an aggregation of personality, ethics, politics, education, worldview, and focus; there is a reason why librarianship requires graduate study to embark upon.
New Librarianship requires a mission. To borrow R. David Lankes’, “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” (That quote, and much of the inspiration for this post, comes from his Atlas of New Librarianship.) There’s a lot in that mission worthy of exploration, but for now, let’s move on.
I’m firmly convinced that librarians can fulfill that mission outside of the building we call a library. In fact, those who hold information-science degrees are qualified for a host of careers, as I’m sure we all know.
Librarianship is an awareness — a hypervigilance to any needs of a community. Everything we see or come in contact with is collected and disseminated to those who seek that information. On another level, though, we also retain that idea, and can share it with someone else. In that way, librarians are libraries, indexes, databases; polymaths. “Jack of all trades; master of none” no longer applies–librarians are constantly educating themselves and mastering the next big thing. Good librarians are interdisciplinary, as challenging as it is to sustain.
This may not earn me any friends, but I believe that personality and focus is the only mark of “librarianship.” The MSLIS/MLS/MLIS/etc is (hopefully) proof of the skills needed to work in a library, but it says nothing about worldview. True librarians can walk into an empty room, and suddenly it becomes a library. They can embed themselves into project teams or classrooms, and suddenly their chosen communities perform more efficiently, more effectively. People who cannot be this sort of ever-learning, ever-sharing, always-on go-getter can still find roles that change lives–but they aren’t the people I’m trying to join by earning an MSLIS, or the ones I’m referring to when I talk about New Librarians.
To me, New Librarianship is a movement; a steadily-growing wave of people seeking to improve the world. Exactly how we’ll do that remains to be seen, but it’s the wanting-to-try that matters. Yes, it’s tiring–hypervigilance and the always-on nature of librarianship will take its toll. Between us all, though, we can take turns, and things will keep getting better.
So what’s your view? Am I crazy?