“The easiest way for me to be proven wrong is to tell you what I think the future of librarianship will be,” said Carl Grant, a library management consultant. The profession of librarianship is on the decline and, according to the report “Perceptions of Libraries,” at the projected rate, libraries will not be used at all by the year 2035.
Grant, who has a MS in Library Science and over 30 years of librarianship experience, posed a question to the librarians sitting in the lecture. “What are we going to do about it? Are we just going to let it continue?”
Speaking about the public perception of a library, Grant pointed to the negative aura they emanate. “Libraries often give off the negative perspective that they can be quiet and not helpful.” He showed a slide of pictures at the entrances to various libraries. Every single picture had a something telling users to be quiet and do not disturb, which while important, can often make people afraid of asking for help.
Addressing the increasing technological challenges that libraries face, Grant said, “We need to move from being laggards in technology to being innovators. Half of all searches are being done on mobile devices now. Children are more likely to own a cell phone than a book.”
Grant demonstrated how libraries have often fallen behind because of ever-expanding technology. To counter it, they have tried many new ideas such as providing movies, audio books, and music CDs.
Grant illustrated this point by telling a story. “As I was driving into the town where a meeting was being held, I started noticing that many of the trees along the road had an arrow dead center in a bullseye hanging on them. Not just one tree, but dozens. Having done some archery in my youth, I knew this was not an easy thing to do. I pulled into town and stopped for lunch at a little restaurant.
“As I was paying my bill, I asked the owner, ‘What can you tell me about all those bullseyes with arrows you see as you come into town?’ She pointed to a man sitting in a booth nearby and said, ‘You should ask him as he did each and every one of them.’
“I turned and walked towards the booth and, as I approached, I realized there was a white cane leaning against the table and he had on a dark pair of sunglasses. ‘I hear you’re the person responsible for all those perfect bulls eye’s hanging from the trees as I come into town? How did you develop that skill, especially given your apparent condition?’ I asked.
“He replied, ‘Oh, it’s really quite easy. My friends go with me and give me some guidance. When I do hit a tree, that’s when they go hang the bullseye over the arrow!'”
Grant explained that he believes libraries are frequently guilty of doing the exact same thing. “We do many good things, and after we do, we proclaim them huge successes,” said Grant. “My fear is that what we do doesn’t connect in a way that moves our profession towards a common and shared goal and thus they aren’t the bullseyes we pretend them to be.”
To survive, libraries must focus on providing a unique service that cannot be gotten anywhere else. “For us to define the future of librarianship we have to define how we can add value where no one else can,” said Grant.
The solution, according to Grant, is to “provide AAA rated information: authenticated, authoritative, and appropriate information with context and without bias.” This is the common goal Grant believes libraries should be focusing on. The Internet cannot provide this, yet libraries and librarians can.
“Google tailors search results to help sell an ad,” said Grant, “Google selects for you and you don’t get any say.” Librarians can provide multiple sources with multiple view points. Also, the authority of the information does not need to be questioned as with sources found on the Internet.
Grant recommended another areas of improvement. “[We] need to be focusing on proactive service. We need to be in front of people’s needs.”
One proposal was to assign every researcher on campus a librarian to help them gather information with their research. The librarians would not only gather the research, but help the researcher get communicate the information so that others may be able to use it.
He also pointed out a third key strength that libraries have, “You cannot underestimate how well libraries collaborate. Things like cloud computing are part of our future. It means we are going to amalgamate large quantities of information that we couldn’t in the past and analyze it.”
“As a profession we’ve lost sight of goals, we have chased a thousand ideas,” said Grant. “We’ve got to change. It’s mandatory. It’s not an option.”