The Relevance of Libraries

"And the library?

"It can look like the most archaic institution of all.  Yet its past bodes well for its future, because libraries were never warehouses of books.  They have always been and always will be centers of learning.  Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

This, from the introduction to Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

I've been a fan of Darnton's ever since reading The Great Cat Massacre many years ago.  As a historian with an annales disposition, he has done some of the most interesting and useful work on the history of the book and printing and the way they have affected society and the diffusion of knowledge of anyone in the past fifty years.  As an innovator and experimenter (he founded the Gutenberg-e program), he has taken what he's learned from all of that scholarly work and looked for ways to apply it in shaping the intellectual infrastructure of the 21st century.  Now, as Director of the Harvard University Library, he is perfectly placed to assess the state of libraries and the convergence of print and digital.

Plus, he's a damn fine writer.  I would put this book on the absolutely must read list for any librarian who actually wants to understand better why the question of "how do we make libraries relevant" is a complete hand-wringing red-herring waste of time.

Of course, it's a book.  It's 206 pages (plus intro and index), and I know that a lot of the hip young techno (hand-wringing) librarians don't like to read books.  They get everything they need from blogs and twitter.  Look at it this way -- very few of Darnton's sentences are longer than 140 characters.  Take a deep breath and pretend it's just a really long twitter feed.  I know you can do it.  Two evenings, max.

It's a collection of essays (most reworked somewhat) that he's written over a number of years, divided into three sections -- looking into the future, studying the present, and considering the past and the implications that our past has for our future.   He has particularly insightful things to say about the Google Books settlement (agree with him or not, his arguments need to be considered), the advantages or disadvantages of electronic books, the importance of open access, and why the history of books matters.

Darnton is neither a technophile evangelist for the coming digital revolution, nor a grudging apologist for how it used to be "better".  His long historical perspective puts him in the position of someone who is excited about what the new technologies can offer us without losing his understanding of the importance of what we've had in the past and what needs to be preserved as we move eagerly into the unknown future.

Librarians, and the institutions that they build, have always played a critical role in the advancement and preservation of learning and culture.  Darnton's book helps to explain why that is even more the case now than ever. 

Libraries or Librarians (Redux)

Awhile back, I was sitting with a group of library directors discussing strategies for dealing with the difficult budget situations that we all find ourselves in this year.  I was struck with how focused the rest of the folks in the room were on protecting the collections budget at all costs.   It is emotional for them in a way that it isn't for me.

I certainly don't mean to suggest that I'm not worried about the impact of the cuts that we're going to make this year -- it's going to be substantial and it is going to have a serious impact on the community that I serve.    But I am much more focused on the variety of services that we provide and making sure that we meet our commitment to getting people to the information that they need while helping them make appropriate and efficient use of it.  This'll mean making greater use of ILL and being cleverer about taking advantage of the rapidly increasing amount of information that is freely available.  I see no reason to shed tears over that.

But then, for me, the focus has always been on what librarians do, not what the library is.

In a way, the Ithaka report that is getting some attention in the blogosphere the last week or so makes the same point.    The report points to a dramatic drop in the perception of faculty of the library's role as portal or gatekeeper between  2003 and 2006.      In his comments on the report, Steven Bell asks, "But why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer?"    The answer seems pretty obvious to me -- it's because too many academic librarians are so focused on "the library" that they can't clear their thinking to see how our skills as information managers are becoming increasingly vital in helping people sort through this maddeningly complex information world in which we now live.  As I've been saying for years the library is becoming less relevant, and no amount of hand-wringing over what we can do to get people to use the library more is going to change that.  But librarians are more relevant than ever, if only we can disengage ourselves from privileging our buildings and collections the way that we do and utilizing our individual skills in more effective and relevant ways.

My institution was recently awarded a CTSA grant.   This is an essential program for any institution that expects to be in the top tier of biomedical research in the future.  As our Dean of Medicine expressed it, it clearly divides the biomedical research world into haves and have-nots.   There is no more critical grant program for us right now.  When the award was announced, a couple of our librarians went to talk to the PI to see what we can do to help.  They didn't spend a lot time talking about the size of our collections.  They talked about what we can do to help with the training of junior faculty, with efficiently connecting researchers to the latest sources of information, about helping to develop a robust, integrated informatics infrastructure.  The PI did a presentation to the Deans council last week providing a full overview of the program and three times highlighted the fact that the libraries are involved, mentioning the librarians by name.

Yesterday I had a meeting with the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Programs and  one of the senior faculty in our sociology department who works extensively with studying homeless populations.  I'm interested in expanding some of our community engagement activities and seeing how we can get undergraduates more involved.  By the time we finished the meeting we had the outlines of a couple of projects, one of which would involve getting some of the students from his medical sociology class looking at our GoLocal installation to help assess whether we are identifying the right resources and describing them in the ways that are most effective in connecting the homeless with the services that they need.

I could go on.  The key here is that these are activities that are very high priority for my institution and what I am continually looking for are opportunities for us to apply our skills to help move those priorities forward.  I've been saying it for so long now, it sounds trite to me, but our job is NOT to build a better library.

A number of years ago, at the Charleston Conference, I was having a conversation with a few very smart, very seasoned librarians.  They were fussing about the future and worrying about what it would mean for them in a world where open access really does become predominant and traditional collection development is increasingly irrelevant.   Their outlook was pretty bleak because, as one of them said, "Building collections is what librarians are all about!"

"No," I said.  "Librarians are about getting people to the information they need in the most effective and efficient way possible.  Building collections was just the means that we used to do that given the constraints of the print world."

The way I see it, the mission of librarians hasn't changed at all.  But we're not going to fulfill it if we keep worrying about the future of libraries.  There's way too much interesting and fun work to do to waste time on that.

Open Access 2.0

In general, when Joe Esposito posts to the liblicense-l list, I find that I agree with him about 65% to 70% of the time (a high percentage for me, I hasten to add).  But in his new article in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, "Open Access 2.0: Access to Scholarly Publications Moves to a New Phase," his percentage has definitely moved up a notch.

He does an excellent job of describing the broad functions of publishing that I was clumsily alluding to in my post this morning (had I read his article sooner I could've saved myself some typing and just linked to it there).  Part of what he describes so well, and which I wish that my librarian colleagues would get a better handle on, is just how various publishing is -- how different publishers can be from one another in their intent and their reach and their audience and their services, and how, as a consequence, whenever we make blanket statements about publishers they are invariably wrong or trivial.

His "nautilus model" for scholarly communication is, I have to say (just having returned from a trip to the UK), brilliant.  It's clear, accurate, and provides a wonderful template for a much more nicely nuanced discussion of open access than we usually see.  What is so refreshing about Esposito's discussion is that he clearly doesn't have an evangelical axe to grind either way -- he's just trying to figure out where open access might fit within the very broad spectrum of scholarly communication.

Do I agree with 100% of what he says in the article?  Of course not.  But hell, on any given day, I don't agree with myself 100%.

The Instability of Information

In the second part of Darnton's essay in the New York Review of Books, he makes a strong case for the continuing importance of large academic research libraries.  As a self-described "Google enthusiast," he believes that "Google Book Search really will make book learning accessible on a new, worldwide scale, despite the great digital divide that separates the poor from the computerized."  But he goes on to argue eloquently that not only will this mass digitization not make research libraries obsolete, it will make them more important than ever.  I think his arguments are compelling, although they will not come as any surprise to librarians who have been thinking clearly about the issues.

It's the first part of his essay that I found particularly illuminating.  Darnton argues that, contrary to the "common view that we have just entered a new era, the information age," which he sees as rooted in the long-term view of technological transformations, "every age was an age of information, each in its own way, and that information has always been unstable."

As a cultural historian with an outstanding reputation, he is well-suited to making this claim.  Years ago I was fascinated by his book, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, in which he shows how our understanding of history is shaped and molded by the ways in which unstable information is passed on and examined.  In the NYRB essay, he has a couple of excellent examples to make the case that "news has always been an artifact and that it never corresponded exactly to what actually happened. ...  News is not what happened, but a story about what happened."

The common wisdom here in the internet age is that things are radically different from the way they've been before.  This is the point of view that I criticized in my comments on Everything is Miscellaneous in response to Rothman's question about what I didn't like about the book.  This predilection to see the present as radically discontinuous from the past isn't new, of course, and it isn't restricted to views about information.  My peers and I in the late 60s believed that our generation represented a radical break, not just with our parents', but with every generation that had gone before.  We were foolish in this belief because we were ignorant of history.

The point is not that things aren't changing, or that the world isn't different today from what it was a couple of decades ago.  The point is that this has always been the case, and our tendency to think that the world of our predecessors had a kind of stability that is lacking in the present world is an illusion.  Change is continuous and incremental and multivariate and beautifully complex.  When we look at the past, or try to understand the present, we break things up into epochs and ages for convenience sake.  We label the decades and try to pin them like butterflies to a display board.  We categorize and classify time just as we do everything else.  But that's just a way for us to abstract things so that we can find ways to understand and talk about them.   Realities are far more complex.

Faulkner said it best:  The past is never dead.  It's not even past.

Valuing Librarians

I was on the phone with a colleague.  She's been doing some consulting at a local hospital, and was getting ready to make a pitch to some of the senior administrators to try to persuade them that they needed to hire a full-time librarian.  But she's trying to figure out how to make sense of the rapid changes that are happening all around. 

"Should I tell them about this open source publishing?  What is the impact of that going to be?"

"Open access," I gently correct her.  "Open source relates to software development.  'Open access' is an umbrella term for a wide variety of experiments having to do with making scholarly content available without a subscription.  You're not going to be able to explain it to these administrators in five minutes.  Just tell them that the situation continues to be extremely complex and that most high-quality information continues to be very expensive."

"And what about publishers shifting to relying on advertising?  Is that the way things are going?"  She's referring to Elsevier's experiment with OncologyStat.

"Another experiment.  Certain segments of publishing have always relied heavily on advertising revenue, " I remind her.  "I suspect that this will be effective in some disciplines and genres.   But whether it  represents a major trend remains to be seen."

But she keeps asking,  "Where is this all going?" 

Damned if I know.

"Here's what I would tell them, if I were in your place,"  I say.  "Tell them that the publishing landscape is more complex than it has ever been before.  Tell them that increasingly there is good quality information that their health professionals need that is available for free, but it is mixed up on the internet with tons of junk.  Tell them that most of what they need is still expensive and it is not at all clear how quickly that's going to change.  Point out that there has been an explosion of different types of resources -- point of care tools, online textbooks, evidence-based databases -- that we're not just talking about online journals.  Tell them that if they're going to make cost-effective use of the time and energy and talents of their health professionals, that now, more than ever, they need a professional librarian to help make sense of this increasingly complex information space.  They don't need somebody to manage the library -- they need someone to help make sure that their health professionals have the best information available, in the right place, at the right time, in the most cost-efficient way.  Tell them that in this highly competitive health industry that they're operating in, they can't afford not to have that kind of a person on their team."

The demise of Times-Select is leading librarians to ask similar questions to that of my colleague.  Over on liblicense, Bernie Sloan says, "...if this sort of trend continues will it gradually begin to marginalize the library, bit by bit? In other words, if more information becomes available freely will that lead people to think they need the library less?"

Of course it will.  But that's been happening bit by bit for years now.  People do need "the library" less. 

But they need librarians more than ever. 

One of my gripes with the Library 2.0 crowd is that they're not radical enough.  For all of the chatter about embracing change and embracing the users and becoming more participative and making use of social software and social networks -- all of which I entirely agree with, by the way -- the focus is still firmly on the success of "the library."  How do we make the library relevant, how do we make it a cool destination, how do we make sure that people are using those resources, etc., etc., etc....   If we were really focused on what the people in our communities need, we'd quit talking about "the library" altogether.

At my institution, we're going to spend some $5 million in the upcoming fiscal year on library resources (all formats), so I don't mean to suggest that collection development isn't still a core part of our mission.  We're getting ready to spend some $8 million renovating the general campus library, so I don't mean to suggest that the building, and the services, are unimportant.  But they are clearly less important than they used to be.

One of the most intriguing things that we're doing here is helping to revise the medical school curriculum.  One of our associate directors is leading the development of the information management theme, where topics ranging from how best to use pubmed, to properly analyzing evidence-based medicine resources, to evaluating what you find with a Google or search, to finding the best consumer-oriented information for your patients, will be tightly integrated throughout all four years of medical school.  It's the most extensive involvement of librarians with overall med school curriculum development that I'm aware of.   And, I should mention, that activity doesn't take place in our building -- our librarians are over in the medical school, participating in curriculum meetings, teaching in the lecture halls, holding office hours in the student lounges.  That's where we belong.

Physicians are drowning in information.  A recent post at Shelved in the W's highlights the dire situation that they're in.  While librarians worry about the health of their libraries, I'm worrying about the health of the patients that are being served by physicians who have only the faintest notion of how to construct even the simplest search. 

I don't give a damn what our medical students think about "the library," but I sure as hell think it's our responsibility to get them out of med school with a decent set of information management skills.

As I was talking to my colleague on the phone about the advice she should give to those hospital administrators, and was describing the kind of dynamic savvy librarian that would really make a difference over there, I was also offering up a silent prayer that they could find somebody like that.  Oh, they're out there -- but we don't have nearly enough of them to tackle the job at hand.

We need better librarians, not better libraries.

Hospitals Need Librarians -- Whether They Know It or Not

A couple of days ago a hospital librarian colleague queried me about a situation she was aware of where a nearby university had arranged with a local hospital to provide access to e-resources to physicians at the hospital that they were trying to recruit as adjuncts.  (Medical schools commonly develop these kind of adjunct or "volunteer faculty" relationships with local physicians, who can then serve as preceptors for med students.  Typically, the docs don't get paid for this, so med schools are always trying to come up with perks that will entice them to continue to participate). 

My colleague was concerned about the impact of these sorts of relationships on hospital libraries, saying, "Add all of this to the new change in the JCAHO guidelines and I believe we are in for many more closings ahead." 

This is a tough one.  We've been seeing a decline in the number of hospital libraries for some years now.  It's driven partly by hospital mergers, partly by cost-cutting on the part of administrators who don't see the value of keeping a library when more and more information is available online.   The JCAHO guidelines that my colleague refers to are from the "Joint Commission" which accredits hospitals.  At one time, they required hospitals to have libraries, but that was changed many years ago to a more general requirement that they have some arrangements for providing knowledge-based information.  In the current round of revisions, they may be weakening that requirement even more.  Now, my colleague looks at this relationship between a hospital and a local university and sees one more potential threat.  She wonders what I think about all of this.

I thought about it for a day or two, and then sent her this:

I don't know enough specifics about the situation you describe to comment on whether any of these moves are good or bad for the various organizations involved, but I think you are probably right that we are going to continue to see hospital libraries closing. We're in a time where there is going to be massive restructuring going on, and whenever that happens in an industry there's going to be considerable upheaval.

I just wrote a blog post on outcomes -- something that I'm very focused on these days. In some of the presentations I've been doing lately, I've been arguing that we put too much emphasis on "libraries" and not enough on "librarians".  Much of the discussion within the hospital library community has been preoccupied with keeping hospital libraries open and, heretical though it may be to say this, I'm not at all sure that's where the focus should be.  I do think that every hospital ought to have a good librarian -- I'm not convinced that means that every hospital needs a library.  But for many librarians, that's nonsensical -- what's a librarian without a library?  In my comments on the JCAHO website regarding the proposed changes I didn't talk about the need for a library at all -- but I said that in this very complicated information age in which we live, every hospital needs a specialist who can assess what the information needs of the institution are, figure out the most cost-effective ways of meeting those needs, and then provide the training and support for people to use those efficiently.  I argued that the need for that is greater now than ever before and that a hospital that doesn't invest in a specialist to help them do that is not going to be managing their decision making processes as efficiently and effectively as they need to.

So what does that mean in practice?  The answer is going to be different in every situation, but in some cases it might mean that it is the hospital librarian who recommends developing partnerships with local universities and who suggests to the administrator that "we should quit spending money on our own licenses because we can be more efficient by developing relationships with other institutions, and then putting our energies here into training and support so that people are using things effectively. We should be developing patient oriented resources so that we're sure that when people leave the hospital they know how to find the information they need to take better care of themselves. We should be very carefully targeting our own funds to meet the needs of those within the institution who are not being well served by the resources available through the other partnerships and alliances we can establish."  But the specifics will be different in every case.

I don't know if any of that is applicable or useful to you in your situation, or if it'll just make you more depressed.  (I hope not!)  I've got a good friend who runs a small local bookstore -- the kind that is going out of business all over the country.  He's thriving and, in fact, is actually making a better profit now than he was for the first ten years he was open.  And he can point to many other independent bookstores around the country who are doing the same.  He's done it by radically rethinking his role in the community.  He and I get together every couple of months to drink a bottle of wine and talk about the similarities in the challenges that we face.  We believe that it is still possible for independent booksellers and for librarians to be successful (although there's no guarantee that whatever you do you'll be successful in any particular setting or situation) -- but it does require radical rethinking.

I'd write more, but I've gotta go. Hang in there....

Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes...

We had a workshop on developing logic models a couple of days ago.    I thought it went pretty well, and I'm hopeful that using the logic model process will help us in our planning and implementation.

There's a danger, of course.  Planning tools get a bad reputation when they become ends in themselves and people start to feel that they're spending endless amounts of time filling out forms and going through useless exercises rather than actually doing anything.  Our trainer pointed that out as one of the risks.  It's critical for us that we use the tools efficiently and only to the extent that they're helpful in focusing our attention.

What I'm most interested in is the emphasis on outcomes, and on the measurement of outcomes.  I still cringe when I read discussions among librarians that focus on thinking up things that will get people to come to the library, as if bodies in the library is the goal.  Number of bodies might be an indicator, but only if that is tied to something that is making a positive difference in the lives of the people who happen to come in.   I've said it many times:  my goal is not to build a better library -- it's to figure out what we can do to make a positive difference for the people in our communities.

Despite all of the Library 2.0 talk out there, I still don't see sufficient attention paid to this.  Indeed, we frequently seem to be working from the assumption that libraries are inherently good and necessary, and that our job is to figure out how to raise our profile so that people will appreciate how important our libraries are (and thus, continue to fund them and to keep us employed, by the way).  But we should be trying to prove it, not assume it. 

So all the discussions about "what will keep people using the library" (whether you mean that in the physical or virtual sense) seem to me to be wrongheaded.  The question ought to be, "what can we, as librarians, do to make a positive difference in the lives of the people in our communities?"  If you can't come up with an answer to that question, and then demonstrate that the programs and services that you provide actually make that difference, then, frankly, it would be irresponsible of the people who hold the purse strings to keep funding you.

That's what the logic model process is about -- making sure that we keep our attention focused on the needs of the people in our communities, and then demonstrating that we're making a difference.  Over the next few weeks, we'll be trying to apply logic models to just a few of our major initiatives so that we can get a better feel for how they work and how we can best use them.

Tokyo Seminar and on to Kyoto

It's a gray and drizzly morning in Kyoto, but I can see mountains in the distance.  By the time we got to the hotel last night, I was too tired to do anything but send a message to Lynn and tumble into bed.  Now I look out, from the 12th floor of my hotel, and see another vast city spread out below me.  A tree-lined boulevard down to my left, what appears to be a large park in the middle distance to my right; a jumble of office blocks and apartment buildings that could be anywhere, and a scattering of smaller buildings that couldn't be anywhere but Japan.

On the bullet train from Tokyo, Yuki was looking through the evaluations from the seminar.  "Here's one that says you were 'inspiring'." 

Good.  "Inspiring" is good.  I certainly can't tell anybody here how to overcome the obstacles that they face in their organizations -- all I can hope to do is share with them some of my own passion and enthusiasm and excitement about being a librarian in the 21st century, and hope it connects with, and reinforces, their own.

I'd been warned by my hosts that the Japanese librarians would be reserved and hesitant to ask questions, but I thought there were quite a few good ones.  Not much different from what I've seen in US or UK audiences.  And I had a chance to talk with a number of people during the breaks and at the reception in the evening.    I was particularly impressed with Mr. Iizawa, director of the Meiji University Library, who was also one of the presenters and appears to be doing great things with establishing partnerships with faculty to set up information literacy classes for the freshman & sophomores in his university.

As far as I know, the translation went fine.  I met with the translators ahead of time for about twenty minutes.  They had printouts of my slides, along with the detailed notes I'd sent a couple of weeks ago.  They had just a few specific questions about words or phrases, or what I was trying to get across with a particular image.  Afterwards, one of them came up and thanked me and said I'd made it very easy for them.  I was grateful for that.  I was surprised, though, how many people were not wearing the earphone while I was speaking (close to half?).  As far as I could tell from body language and facial expressions, at least some of what I was trying to say was coming through.

I was also quite delighted to meet Tamiko Matsumura, Emeritus Professor at the University of Library and Information Science and Professor at Sugiyama Jogakuen University.  Turns out that she was an indexer at NLM back in the late sixties and early seventies.  Ritsuko had arranged for her to have lunch with the speakers, and so we had a fine time sharing stories about some of the NLM people we knew in common.

The program today is an exact repeat of yesterday.  (I was joking with Joep that by the time we get to Korea, he and I will be able to do each other's presentations).  A somewhat smaller audience (there were just over one hundred in yesterday's session and there are 65 signed up for today).  Different set of translators.  And we don't have to dash for the bullet train at the end of it!

Dealing With The Money

This was my favorite part of the Inside Higher Ed article reporting on an ALA session that focused on communicating with chief academic officers:

“You don’t have to convince me that you are worth the extra funding,” said Dominic Latorraca, vice president of academic affairs at County College of Morris, in New Jersey: “Can you convince others within the university that this is the way to go to track down the help we need? If you can show that, it’s going to impress me more than you saying, ‘Did you know that inflation went up 4 percent last year?’”

Most librarians tend to be uncomfortable grappling with the money issues -- since we tend to be selfless egalitarians who are only concerned with the welfare of society, we think that there is something unseemly in being hard-headed about the business aspects of running a large organization.  In a well-ordered world, our provosts (or library boards or school systems or hospital administrators) would simply give us all the money that we think we need because we are so clearly a good thing.  To have to argue for our funding is prima facie evidence that the administrators that we deal with are pennypinching suits who don't appreciate the really important issues.

If only it were that simple.  As an administrator myself, I am, of course, already suspect.  But dealing with the money is my job and I don't have the luxury of just complaining about the lack of vision of the people who hold the pursestrings.  The fact is, I'm extremely fortunate to be working in an institution where the people leading the institution (president, provost, deans, etc.) really do value the libraries and believe in their importance.   However, they also believe in the importance of supporting research infrastructure, and faculty development, and study abroad programs, and more scholarships for the best undergrads, and healthier stipends for the grad students we're trying to attract....  And once they've finished arguing for funding for all these things with the people that they report to, there's still never enough to fund everything adequately.

So my job, as I think about the budget plans that I'll be putting together over the next few weeks, is to make the most compelling case I can for why putting more money into the libraries is going to make the biggest impact on the goals of the university.  When talk turns to "How do you advocate for the library" I always say, "You need to figure out what keeps the person in charge awake at night." 

The point is that the people running our organizations are always faced with more good ideas than they can fund.  But, if they're doing their jobs right, they also have a vision for their organization and there are just a few things that they really focus on that can keep them awake at night.  It might be the quality of the undergraduate experience, it might be competing with other local hospitals for physicians, it might be expanding the tax base in some big city suburb -- it probably isn't how to have a bigger, better-funded library than anybody else.  So the challenge to the library administrator is to figure out how to make the case that putting money into the library is going to be a part of the solution to whatever those problems are.   Complaining that resources are getting more expensive isn't going to cut it -- everybody has that problem.    You've got to show that investing in the library is a part of the solution.   And then you do the very best you can with what you get.

What Do You Call "Success"?

I was scanning Roy Tennant's recent column about the ACRL Technology and Change Summit and paused at this sentence:  "Academic libraries have three huge challenges that we must address to be successful."

The three challenges that he speaks of are to "reconceptualize the role of the library," acquire "agile, imaginative staff," and get our hands on "new tools."  Seems pretty straightforward.  But I worry just a bit when he goes on to say that, "In the end, we all came away from this meeting with a profound sense that things must change."   I sure hope that wasn't new news to any of the participants.

I keep going back to that earlier sentence and wondering, "What does it mean to be successful?"  I would suggest that a fourth, and even greater challenge, is to answer that question.  I suspect that most librarians would have a hard time with it.

Librarians worry about the library becoming less relevant.    My M-W Collegiate Dictionary defines "library" as either a place or a collection.  In these senses it seems to me that "the library" is, indisputably, becoming  less relevant.  The very essence of the digital world is that place in general has become less relevant.  And in an age when the activity of a collection development librarian is focused on licensing content rather than on actually "acquiring" anything, the concept of "a collection" has been stretched past the breaking point.  The library, be it public, academic, or whatever simply is not as important as it used to be and will become even less important as time goes on.

I hasten to add that "less relevant" is not at all the same as irrelevant, and "less important" does not at all imply unimportant.  But we are fooling ourselves mightily if we think that social software, gaming, and friendlier signage are going to keep our places and collections as important to our communities as they once were.

But despite what my dictionary says, I think there is another sense to "library" -- it is also an organization, a group of librarians.  And librarians are more important than ever.  The first of Roy's challenges needs to be recast as a need to reconceptualize the role of the librarian.

I go back to my dictionary and see that "librarian" is defined as "a specialist in the care or management of a library."  If that is, in fact, all that a librarian is, then we are less important and less relevant as well.  But I think my dictionary is short-sighted.

At their essence, what librarians do, and have done for many thousands of years, is much more than care for libraries.  We connect people to knowledge.  We bring people together with the intellectual content of the past and present so that new knowledge can be created.  We provide the ways and means for people to find entertainment and solace and enlightenment and joy and delight in the intellectual, scientific and creative work of other people.  This is what we have always been about.  For all those centuries, the way that we could best do that was by creating places and collections -- but along the way we lost sight of the fact that those were only tools.  We allowed our tools to define us.

Here at Lister Hill, we are about to embark on a major strategic planning exercise.  I think we've met Ray's second challenge -- the place is full of agile, imaginative staff -- and it's time for us to really dig in (again) and think about what we are the very best at, and what our community needs that only we can provide (to borrow some concepts from Jim Collins).  Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn if the "library" is successful.  But I will make sure that this organization of talented, dedicated people is.

Librarians who believe that their job is to care for and manage their places and their collections will need to accept that their role in society, and their importance to their communities, will continue to shrink.   But for those who see that their role is deeper than that, the great age of librarianship is just beginning.  Our places and our collections will never become unimportant -- we are, after all, physical beings.  But in order to become the fabulously successful librarians that we have the capability to be, we will need, in significant ways, to leave our libraries behind.