An ever-expanding sea of online information presents an existential threat to libraries, but it also presents an opportunity for this ancient and important institution to reinvent itself. The question of whether a library can stay relevant in the digital age all depends on its mission and its ability to adapt, but still stay true, to the goal of providing knowledge.
During this time of tectonic shifts in the Library Industry, it is essential for those working in it to have a deep understanding of a library’s intrinsic reason for existence and the impact that they want it to make in the world. As Simon Sinek coined, you need to know your “Why.” In the past, a library’s “Why” was to be a repository of books, where books represented information or knowledge. Today, with the advent of smart phones and tablet computers, a person might have more information in their pocket than a library holds in all of its books. So the reason for existence of the library must change or be doomed to extinction.
In this day and age, a more relevant “Why” for a library is to give people access to information, guidance, skills, and experiences that they cannot get on their own.
Since access to information is no longer solely through books, more and more libraries are adding e-books, databases, ever expanding catalogs of digital literature and magazines, as well as free streaming and downloadable music and video content into the mix. The role of librarians is also changing into digital information guides, since many people don’t know how to evaluate, sift through, and use credible information from the Internet.
Provide New Skills
A new and important role for libraries includes providing access to new skills. This involves an evolution within the library’s physical space with learning areas such as collaborative spaces, laboratories, makers spaces, brainstorming areas, and 3-D printer services. Other skill-enhancing offerings include tutoring services, job and career-related training, and GED or high school equivalency certifications.
Another indispensable function that modern libraries provide is a community gathering space. Our world may be technologically more advanced, but it is also increasingly more physically disconnected. Libraries offer a valuable place for people of all backgrounds to connect through shared experiences such as: preschool story times, book clubs, movie nights, guest speakers, and classes.
The library revolution that is taking place requires staff to really delve deep into their “Why” to understand the core reason for their existence. Once that is discovered and defined, staff members need to be willing to adapt and change the things that they used to hold sacred to the ever-evolving landscape around them. The key to doing this is by addressing the “Why,” then going through a process that defines and realigns all of your people, space, and technology to support the “Why.” We helped Zimmerman Library, the largest academic library at the University of New Mexico, go through this process.
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