Sunday, October 2, 2011

Keynote: Killing Librarianship - R. David Lankes

Killing Librarianship: R. David Lankes

Sunday, October 2 1:00-2:00

David Lankes, professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, gave a rousing keynote on what librarians need to do to reclaim their place in the ever-changing world of the library.  One of the things librarians do best is innovate, and it is something Lankes preaches, not just to students, but to everyone in the field (his audience included.)

Lankes warned that what will kill our profession is not ebooks, Amazon or Google, but a lack of imagination.  He challenged the crowd to think big, especially in an era of enormous problems that have created big challenges.  There are many reasons to think big, but the most important reason is that librarians are no stranger to big ideas.  

Mr. Lankes posed three (3) criteria for following the big think.  The first is INNOVATION. When we think of innovation, we think of people like Steve Jobs, god-like figures who we equate with innovation on a rather large scale.  Mr. Lances, however, distinguishes between innovation and entrepreneurship; the latter is synonymous with risk and capital, which is an enormous barrier.  Innovation on the other hand is purely comprised of good ideas that can be taken right to the masses.  Innovation for librarianship is the marketplace of ideas, not capital which, for librarians, deals with discovery and pulls people together.  Innovators can be change agents on a small scale.  Innovators see knowledge as open and enriching, the task set to librarians by trade.  Librarians do not need to change the axis of the world. Just innovate and do better.  

Innovation should, however, be coupled with Mr. Lankes’ other criteria, the next of which is PARTICIPATION.  Part of what librarians do is participate in a larger process/conversation about community.  The idea of community is inherently present in the process and procedure of the library.  Librarians prepare people who can develop their own idea of community, preparing people who take and give by calling them members.  “Members” reinforces the idea of participation and the notion of teams.  Librarians are part of this participatory process, whereby they do not work in a vacuum, but reciprocate expertise and services with other members who participate in the very democratic notion of the library.

Which leads me to Mr. Lankes last criterion: DEMOCRACY. Historically, the public library has been, and is, a vital instrument of democracy and opportunity.  Librarians, as proponents of democracy, engage in the sharing and cultivation of knowledge for the greater good, to actively inform citizenry.  This actively informing of citizenry feeds the notion of the library as a civic organization (hence the “member” designation for those who participate, pay dues, as it were, through the sharing of information.) Librarians are in the aspirational business of fighting for freedom.  

Through the criteria of Innovation, Participation, Democracy, Lankes argues that we arrive at Librarianship—a tall mission for librarians to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their own communities.  And with this mission is a call for a revolution in librarianship to overthrow ignorance, again in the lofty service of the people.  Librarianship is a profession that seeks to serve, a profession of great complexity and caring with a rather long and proud history of innovation.  There is a long legacy of humanity through librarians, rooted in an obligation to think big!

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