Editor Note: This is a guest post by Jarrett Drake.
“The Incunabula. I’d like to see them,” said a patron in a muffled tone. “Can you repeat that?” I responded unassumingly. “The Incunabula, the Incunabula!” she exclaimed, her voice rising with each repetition. After a brief hesitation of speech that left my mouth quite unable to repeat her enunciations, the patron interjects, “You’re not familiar with the Incunabula? Are you a librarian?”
And that’s where I’ll stop. For the record, I’m not a librarian (yet). But if there’s one takeaway from my attendance at the 2012 Spectrum Leadership Institute and the 2012 ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, it’s that the future of libraries—and indeed, librarianship—is a changing face. As emerging professionals, we library and information students mustn’t simply notice that change, but champion it.
For those unfamiliar with Spectrum, it’s a scholarship program that former ALA President Dr. Betty J. Turock initiated in 1998. In its nearly fifteen years of existence, Spectrum has supported close to 800 graduate students from underrepresented populations in their pursuit of master’s and doctoral degrees in the field of library and information science. The Spectrum Leadership Institute, held yearly to coincide with the ALA annual conference, brings its scholarship recipients together for a multi-day, engaging series of workshops, presentations, and panels.
This year’s institute, for example, welcomed library professionals who dedicate their lives to delivering access of telecommunications technology to historically disenfranchised neighborhoods. In fact, throughout the course of the past year with the assistance of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Spectrum has offered a series of online webinars titled “Technology Transforms Communities.” This series of webinars provided valuable information on how library technology can enhance service to traditionally underserved ethnic communities. The Institute was an excellent venue to bring all the knowledge facilitated through the webinar series into one room.
So is the purpose of this post to praise Spectrum and excuse my ignorance? Yes and no, respectively. Yes, because Spectrum is preparing librarians and information professionals to be stewards of change and growth in communities across the country. And no, because I actually come to the field of information science to further my love of learning, not pretend that it is replete.
But the larger purpose, though, can be summarized in the following tweet courtesy of Kate Theimer of the popular blog ArchivesNext:
“If you love books/old stuff, collect them. If you love helping people have access to information, become a librarian/archivist.”
Fewer and fewer LIS students will know what incunabula are. And that’s ok. Although the traditional formats of information are dying, the pulse of librarianship has never been more vibrant. The mediums through which people access knowledge are transforming, and it’s time our sensibilities and expectations transform with them. Our profession’s new demands require librarians who can write regular expressions, tweak stylesheets, and manage databases. Equally applying these toolkits in service to those of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds is a responsibility that past and current Spectrum scholars eagerly assume and should permeate the field.
There is no sine qua non subject matter that a librarian must possess; rather, the only sine qua non for today’s (and especially tomorrow’s) librarian is a willingness to assist people find and use information. In this way, libraries are not just book collectors; they’re life changers. And that’s truly changing the face of librarianship.
Do you agree with the patron’s claim that all librarians should be familiar with Incunabula? What skills do you think will be most useful for librarians of the future? Add your thoughts to the conversation!
Jarrett M. Drake is a second-year master’s degree candidate student at the University of Michigan School of Information where he specializes in Archives & Records Management. He currently works as University Library Associate for the U-M Special Collections Library and as a processing assistant for the Bentley Historical Library. You can find him on Twitter @JarrettMDrake.