New Librarianship Master Class: What IS a Librarian? What is a Library?

by Kate Kosturski, Head Editor, INALJ New York State

New Librarianship Master Class: What IS a Librarian? What is a Library?

527926_759573701450_305419315_nThis month, I am participating in the Syracuse University iSchool’s New Librarianship Master Class. I’m just finishing up the first week of classes, which will set the precedent for the rest of the course. We’re working off of a basic mission statement – The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities – and breaking it down as it applies to what our instructor, R. David Lankes (Syracuse iSchool Professor and Dean’s Scholar for the New Librarianship) considers “new librarianship”

First, what is new librarianship?  This concept focuses on libraries as a place for conversation, not a place for collections.  The librarian is the creator of the library, not its employee – we have the power to facilitate conversation and create knowledge, not just hand you the tools to find that knowledge.  And the librarians are not just the creators of that knowledge – the community that uses the library (i.e. patrons), also has a role in creating that knowledge.   This view of libraries takes them away from the place of just stacks and into a true community resources.

In reviewing the first week of classes, three thoughts come to mind.

  • The recent plans by the New York Public Library to renovate its iconic Fifth Avenue branch to remove the research stacks.  These plans are now on hold, and in the view of new librarianship, putting them on hold is a bad thing. The New York Public Library is attempting to make their iconic space a place of conversation (and on the side, remove the oft-believed misconception that you can just walk in to that building with the lions and check out a book) and not just some building of books. It wants to be a place of social engagement, not just a place where you can “read these books and thus improve society.”  I’m disappointed in this decision and hope that the library and its stakeholders reconsider, because it is truly for the good of the library and the City.

  • The Makerspace Movement in libraries.  Many libraries – the Detroit Public Library and the Chattanooga (TN) Public Library among them – made their teen spaces Makerspaces, where patrons can experiment with creation of electronics, 3D printings, and crafts.   This is new librarianship at its finest.  These places allow teens to “unleash their brilliance on the rest of the world” and be a part of the library.   My partner and I tend to disagree on the role of the makerspace in the library (I’m all for it, he’s all against it), but I’m hoping that he can see the benefit of the makerspace through the lens of new librarianship.

  • INALJ.  Take a look at some of the keywords we use for job searching (on our main page): Information Architect, Knowledge Architect, Database Designer, User Interface Designer.  These are just a few of the titles that fit into New Librarianship – the librarian as creator of the library, the creator of the knowledge.  There aren’t many of these titles right now, but I expect them to increase as New Librarianship takes hold.

I’m hoping to write further on the course on my personal blog, but I hope this taste of new librarianship encourages you to change your thinking (or perhaps even sign up for the course yourself!)

  2 comments for “New Librarianship Master Class: What IS a Librarian? What is a Library?

  1. I
    July 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I think that social engagement can come without a drastic gutting and reshaping of the research library.

    • July 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Yes. Cannot the space be shared between books and “space”?

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