5 Universal Truths That All Librarians Can Agree Upon Right Now

Over the last couple of days, I have been reading a flurry of “end of the year” posts. These end of year reflections (and the end of the decade that people had a hard time naming) have made me think about my own reflection of these time periods. It was only within this last past year that I really delved into the library and librarian blogosphere. During this time, what has really captured my interest in the library oriented blogs is the spectrum of beliefs that exist when it comes to where libraries are going and where they should be heading. In thinking about the wide range of perspectives, the different library theory approaches, and the variety of libraries that exist, I believe there are five current universal truths that will be the basis for any discussion about the library in the future decade.

Without further ado, here they are.

1.) Perception of information is changing

Information is now an instant gratification commodity, capable of being gained through a multitude of means (especially computer based). For libraries, this requires us to be flexible with our interfaces; whether it is face to face or with our customers accessing our resources, there has to be an eye towards the least amount of steps from an inquiry to a result.

2.) Literacy is changing

What it means to be literate twenty years ago is but a part of the greater definition now. The ability to read and write information on computers now shares with its print brethren. The integration of technology into our lives, for better or worse, is inevitable as we move more information into digital formats.

(For more on this, be certain to check out Bobbi Newman’s Transliteracy page.)

3.) Libraries are now part of greater information chorus

This aspect is two fold. First, there are the plethora of non-library internet based websites which provide accurate information on specific subjects. (Think more Mayo Clinic, less Wikipedia.) Libraries are now just one of many potential end points for a inquiry. Second, there is an explosion of user generated content. There are individuals who create pages and sites about topics that are extraordinarily niched (such as local history, family history, and local specializations). They represent a small but important information resources for inquiries that in the past would have been relegated to the vertical file and/or genealogy room.

4.) Communication is our friend

The world communicates on a myriad of levels, from the tweets of Twitter to the web published academic papers. On the one hand, these represent new and different ways to connect to our customers and to communicate with them on the mediums they are using. On the other hand, the technology exists to make communicating between each other (read: libraries) easier so that a catalog no longer needs to be held in relative isolation. And not simply catalogs, but there can more contemporary sharing of policies and practices that been successful.

5.) The underlying philosophies of the library have not changed

As much as the information revolution has swept through the profession, the commitment to academic freedom, intellectual inquiry, and act as a community resource (whether you are serving the public, a school, or a company; a space for all, if you will) are still intact. It is the common bond between everyone in the profession; and while we may not agree on how best to serve the spirit of these, they still represent basic elements that are universally embraced. This central dogma is what gives us common cause to provide information to those who seek it.


In closing, I am reminded of a quote spoken by the character Don Draper in the television series Mad Men. I think it will serve us well in the decade that is to be.

“Change is neither good nor bad. It simply is.”

24 thoughts on “5 Universal Truths That All Librarians Can Agree Upon Right Now

  1. Thanks for this post…I am nodding and appreciate your perspective as I prepare speeches for ALA Midwinter. It’s so important for all libraries to recognize and promote the commonality all types of libraries have as institutions of education, different education from the past, but educational institutions. The “L” word is important to me….Sara Kelly Johns

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sara. I didn’t really include it, but there are some heated discussions about the library. I think these five things are good common touchstones for all sides, whether Library 2.0/101 or not. Sometimes, people need to be reminded that we are basically all on the same team.

  2. and I REALLY appreciate your previous posts, BTW. I’ve never been subsidized by anyone to go to ALA conferences, I am reimbursed for one conference a year (if it is not too expensive) but can’t do my job well without a personal committment to professional development…and the more I showed up, the more I got involved. Thanks for sharing your perspective; after a little sleep I am still reading–and nodding.


  3. Thanks for sharing your perspective on information and libraries. Even though I deal with seniors using computers every day, I had not thought of the “literacy” aspect of technology. Few understand the inevitability of the movement to a paperless society and consider computers at best a nice extra curricular activity and at worst an impersonal evil, but the expansion of the understanding of literacy to include computer usage must acknowledge a new group lacking basic skill and struggling to compensate in day to day life. This issue is quickly becoming as devastatingly challenging to survival as would be inability to read and write. It is essential that those in our profession recognize the reality and challenge of the expansion of what it means to be literate.

    • Computers were first thought as moving us to a paperless society when in fact paper usage actually went up. People still want to print out emails, articles, and publications and have a ‘paper copy’ for themselves.

      I see the lacuna in technology literacy when people ask for help filing for unemployment or applying for a job since those agencies have adopted online formats. It’s a technological imposition for which there is no alternative. While I have found the state to be pretty reasonable offering support for people using their website, I had to call several different stores for someone who was applying online for a job only to be told “ask them to try again later” when the website isn’t working. A very poor realization of the system when the company is looking to hire, a person is looking to apply, and a third party system gets in the way.

    • Melanie I couldn’t agree more. There is a lot of focus on access to the technology, the tools when people talk about the digital divide, but what gets overlooked are the skills. Having access to the internet or technology are important, but the skills to use and the knowledge to use it to get what you need is essential. So many people dismiss libraries being involved with access and training that focus on the internet and technology, they are missing the larger picture. Patrons are looking to us to teach them how to use these tools, how to find the information they need seamlessly across any platform. Pretending we’re just about books or the printed word is failing our patrons. Just as libraries have focused on literacy we now need to expand that focus to transliteracy.

  4. Hi Andy.

    I’m Ignacio Gallego and I work in an academic library in Madrid (Spain). We’ve found your post in twitter and we like it very much, so… could it be possible to quote you in a .ppt with some fun pictures? We are preparing a workshop on 2.0 Libraries and your ‘5 things’ could be great to initiate discussions. Could we, pleease?

    Thank you. Ignacio.

  5. Yes! I have experienced this with several people applying for positions in which they will not have to use a computer at all; it is definitely frustrating.

    I agree there is just as much of a paper flow, but the responsibility for the cost has shifted to the consumer. For instance, the local community college has published their last LIFE catalog, and seniors will need to go online to find courses in the future, and NJ libraries are not receiving huge inventories of tax forms or FAFSA forms, and this is fine as long as we still plan ahead to help empower people to think and work this way.

  6. Interesting and thanks for sharing your thoughts. Although I’m curious about point #3. To me, libraries are now a hybrid: both as end point (our own collection in printed and digital material) and starting point (collection of other end points.) Unless if I missed something obvious from your post?

    • My point is that, years ago, if you had a question and you were looking for an answer, you were generally directed to the library. It was seen as the place to find answers, but now it is one of many places to get information. It is part of a greater set of information resources.

      It’s true we are a hybrid of traditional and contemporary resources. I think the boundaries are moving and I have a post in mind about that.

  7. It is an interesting and at times frightening the direction the direction that information, and as a consequence, libraries are taking. I am currently writing a book chapter with a colleague on information literacy and Second Life. One of the greatest challenges of researching in a virtual world is getting my colleagues to recognize the validity of it. It has been a struggle to demonstrate that the perception of information is changing, and we must change with it. Thank you for your post. It is a sorely needed salve.

  8. Pingback: Andy Woodworth’s 5 Universal Truths That All Librarians Can Agree Upon | Librarian by Day

  9. I’ll be re-tweeting this, as well as remembering these truths in the future. Like ranti said, we are a collection of endpoints — printed, recorded and otherwise — that people seek on a daily basis. Our job is to make that search easier.

    As the web site designer/maintainer for the Goodnight Memorial Library, we have incorporated Facebook into our web page via a fanbox, which replaced a static calendar for event information, and have several pages of links to other resources, not necessarily library-related.

    As a society, we have talked about being “computer-literate” for the better part of 20 years but are only now seeing the social value and integration of computers into our daily lives. There is a new social class out there, akin to those who have not ever been able to read or write.

  10. Hi Andy–

    I’m getting ready to start teaching a course on information policy. I need a banner for my Blackboard page. I love yours–any way I could “steal” it–with attribution of course?

  11. Pingback: Logo Contest Entry – Andy Woodworth « Libraries and Transliteracy

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