What is Beginner's Mind

Having 'Beginners mind' is to approach a subject enthusiastically, with openness and without preconceptions, even if you are an expert. It represents a willingness to ask questions and challenge assumptions; both essential to the scientific process.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Skills of the New Librarian

I have been reading about the Standards for the 21st century learner that children will need by the time they get through school and the impact that will have on librarianship. If we are demanding that our school children be able to not only use word processing, spreadsheets, publishing and presentation software but also blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 social media, it seems to me that all librarians should also be expected to use the same tools. (Standards in Action Draft, 2008) Further, how will we be poised to meet the information needs of these technologically proficient children when they enter adulthood.. What tools will we need to "organize and effectively display" information to meet their needs (RUSA Behavioral Guidelines, 2004)? Will this be through chat, RSS feeds, podcasts, v-casts and twitter? I hope we will at least be more successful understanding downloads to e-book readers than we have been with mp3 players.

And what of the skills of the digital librarian? A recent study(Choi & Rasmussen, 2006) came up with the following list of training gaps that current digital librarians felt that they had.
  • Overall understanding of complex interplay of software
  • Lack of vocabulary to communicate with technical staff
  • Knowledge of web-related languages and technologies
  • Web design
  • Digital imaging and formatting
  • Digital technology
  • Programming and scripting languages
  • XML standards and technologies, and
  • Basic systems administration.

These are all major skill sets that will need to be adopted by the average librarian. A number of our leaders have acknowledged this challenge and in my library we implemented Helen Blowers Library 2.0 initiative, where we used and blogged about 23 technology related things such as wikis, RSS feeds, social networking pages and the like. My observations during this process were that a few people dove right in and excitedly embraced the new social technologies. Most went through the process with distaste (or not at all) and often did not see the use of any of these new approaches.

My experience mirrors a study by Rabina (Rabina & Walczyk, 2007) who assessed the attitudes of librarians about adopting technology. They used an analysis of the diffusion of innovation in societies developed by E. M. Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003). Rogers found that people fall into five categories in their approach to adopting innovation:

  • Innovators (2.5%)
  • Early adopters (13.5%)
  • Early majority (34%)
  • Late majority (34%)
  • Laggards (16%)

This, like most things in a population, approximates a bell curve. But when Rabina applied this to librarians, she found the following percentages:

  • Innovators (3.6%)
  • Early adopters (24.6%)
  • Early majority (17.2%)
  • Late majority (37%)
  • Laggards (17.7%)

The large number of early adopters and drop off in early majority population has several effects:

  • The preponderance of early adopters confuse the early majority by running off in different directions adopting different things.
  • The small number of early majority librarians are not enough to mentor the late majority into adopting new technologies causing a drop off in momentum.
  • The momentum loss may cause the adoption of technology in unproductive ways.

So, what does this mean for the profession? I suggest the following:

  1. Current leaders must at least develop at least intermediate level expertise (i.e., able to troubleshoot and coach) in all librarians in word processing, spreadsheets publishing and presentation software ( things that current high schoolers are expected to know). This will require more effort and time than usual due to the large numbers of late adopters and laggards.
  2. All librarians should understand RSS feeds, chat, twitter and any other Web 2.0 information flow that develops, since information flow is fundamental to the profession. Again, this will take time and resources.
  3. All librarians should have intermediate proficiency in hardware such as mp3 players, digital cameras and cell phones.
  4. All librarians should be developing at least basic proficiency in (be able to readily use) collaborative software such as chat, blogs, wikis and social networking. Organizations should adopt one or more of these technologies now and incorporate them into normal operations so that librarians can get experience using them.
  5. There should be a growing segment of the librarian population that can manipulate advanced forms of information communication and presentation: podcasts, website design, web languages etc.
  6. There should be a growing segment of the librarian population with an understanding of information systems. Perhaps joint degrees would be desirable.
  7. There should be a specific recruitment of librarian candidates who have a preference for technology, since we cannot afford to have a greater percentage of late adopters and laggards.


Choi, Y., & Rasmussen, E. (2006). What is needed to educate future digital librarians. D-Lib Magazine, 12(9) Retrieved from http://www.dlib.org/dlib/september06/choi/09choi.html

Rabina, D. L., & Walczyk, D. J. (2007). Information professionals' attitude toward the adoption of innovation in everyday life. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science--"Featuring the Future", , 12(4) papercolis12. Retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/12-4/colis/colis12.html

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

RUSA Behavioral Guidelines. (2004). Guidelines for behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 44(1), 14-17. Retrieved from Full Text HTMLFull Text PDF HTML: http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315af44ead79cfd5574583beed98dc22ac760596b6777653ce2e&fmt=H PDF: http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315af44ead79cfd5574583beed98dc22ac760596b6777653ce2e&fmt=P

Standards in Action Draft. (2008). Standards for the 21st century learner in action (draft 2) (American Association of School Libraries StandardsAmerican Library Association. (Standards in Action) Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslproftools/standardsinaction/standardsinaction.cfm

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The library as a great good place

I'm probably a little late on the uptake here but I just discovered Ray Oldenburg's 1999 book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Oldenburg talks about the three places in a community: the first place is home, the second place is work, and the "third place" is the community hangout(s). Unfortunately, with the rise of the suburb, and the dominance of the automobile, these local hangouts--whether bars, barbershops, town squares, or cafes, are almost gone.

These third places are the bastions of informal public life; a place where you can meet neighbors from all walks of life, have discussions, blow off steam, escape family or work life and then return home. It is Oldenburg's hypothesis that communities without third places are impoverished. Third places are the places that create a sense of community; where
...people develop a fondness for each other and meet regularly...they will give each other things; loan tools, books and other objects, give of their time and labor on occasion and tell one another about useful sources of goods and services.
Lives without access to third places are not as happy as they could be because they are denied acess to an important source of support groups.

However, not all public meeting places are third places or "great good places". They must have the following attributes:

1. They are neutral ground. Individuals can come and go as they please and none are required to play host. But it is a place where people feel comfortable and at home.

2. Good conversation is at the core. Regulars keep the conversation flowing, but even the stranger may engage in the banter.

3. Regulars are crucial. Regulars set the whole tone, feeling and conviviality of the place. The regulars are more important than staff.
As Oldenburg says It is the regulars whose mood and manner provide the infectious and contagious style of interaction and whose acceptance of new faces is crucial. The host's welcome, though important, is not what really matters. p34
In fact, regulars are so important they may be extended privileges denied to other customers.

4. Plainness is important. That is to say that the decor of the place should discourage pretension and encourage a homelike environment.

5. The mood is playful.

6. All types of people are welcome. Although some traditional third places have excluded women, the whole point of a third place is one of inclusion, leveling and lack of pretension. The Midwestern German beer gardens of the early 1900, for example, included women and children!

So what does all this have to do with libraries???? Libraries may be the one local establishment left in suburbia where people can congregate. It is a place that has the potential to be a great good place if we allow it to be. If we

  • encourage people to linger and converse.
  • make things homey and not too pretentious
  • take care of our regulars
  • encourage a variety of people (including kids and teens)
  • keep it playful!