Librarians From Curators To Navigators & Collaborators

Libraries are in a state of transition. As mentioned in previous posts, with the constant innovation taking place, our role as librarian is also changing.

Barbara Fister put it best when she noted "T. Scott Plutchak wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association a couple of years ago that the great age of libraries has passed, but if we’re paying attention we may see a great age of librarians. We will shift from paying most of our attention to the care and feeding of collections and buildings (not to mention trying to coax people into those buildings to use the collections) and will instead will provide specialized services to scholar-collaborators as they create knowledge. Or we'll become irrelevant."

In so many words, this is what I mean when I say that librarians will shift from the curators of print collections to the curators and navigators of electronic collections.

And Fister goes on to discuss how librarians must collaborate if we want to continue advancing in our new role. As she mentions, the current system is hindering librarians as collaborators: "That article you need? We spent $40 getting a copy for your personal use (and technically only for 24 hours).That interlibrary loan service you depend on? We won’t be able to borrow books unless another library buys a copy that can be loaned. There’s no guarantee that will happen in future. Should we put our money in providing access to a catalog of ebooks that you can choose from? That may be more efficient than relying on other libraries or guessing what you might want ahead of time, but the price is volatile and the package won’t include all of the books you want. Did you read that agreement you just signed that gives your copyright to a commercial publisher to whom your society outsources its publication program? I didn’t think so. You’re busy and you returned the corrected proofs weeks ago, so naturally the agreement seems like some last-minute red tape. This is the kind of craziness we deal with daily. The system has grown very strange and very few people are aware of the costs and limitations of how we do things now."

Generally librarians are aware of the complexities of the system that we are working under, but it's not enough to merely be aware - we have to advocate for change. Librarians need library administrators who are willing to listen and understand these issues and take a stand if need be. We need to work with publishers to get broader access rights to lend material through document delivery and interlibrary loan. We have to collaborate with other libraries to make sure that books are purchased to share or risk losing access to the book altogether.

These are interesting times in libraryland, but we are up to the challenge!


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