Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tectonic shift?

Tectonic reconstruction of the earth's land masses.
Image copied from Wikimedia.

I know, it's been a while. I'm in the middle of comps (exams), in the middle of teaching. You know how it gets.

The economy, hopes and plans, and the reality

I sometimes hang out on a web forum for vegans (yes, I am, for two years now, and change). It was interesting to realize that a number of the forum members are new librarians, or are in school for their MLS, or are planning to become librarians. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised - after all, it's the fabulous, liberal, wide-awake and engaged personalities of some librarians I met that helped convince me to enter the profession. Several women, in particular: Mary ____ (last name lost in the mists of uncertain memory), business librarian at Peoria Public - bright, funny, something of a hippy. Joanne Fought, now retired, and my mentor/advisor at Illinois Central College, where I began my college education as an older student - a yoga teacher, writer, and all-round support during a difficult time of my life. But I digress. As usual.

Inevitably the topic came up: the economy. Someone posted the news piece about public libraries closing in Philadelphia, and I read responses, chimed in myself. ALA has let her down, wrote one - she'd been misled by claims of all those jobs, just waiting out there, and now - nothing. Friends who graduated in '07 had found employment, but just months later - nothing was available. One had been told a job was waiting after she graduated, by a library director she worked with as an intern. But guess what? The economy crashed with the force of a tsunami, leaving ALA marketing text unchanged, casting those waiting by to fill jobs adrift (all those thousands of graying librarians!) - jobs that suddenly vanished, or that have failed to be vacated.

My fundamental optimism cannot accept this change as a permanent thing. But what do library educators tell hopeful students (what do I?) If we are to be open about our profession, and to invite new minds, new ideas - this too is our reality. Uncertainty is part of our reality. Are we all caught unaware, and hoping that before anyone really notices, things will return to 'normal'? I feel a shift.

The shifting meaning of librarianship

There is a connection here. Today, via my feed reader, I was able to read an article on technology in academic libraries that has briefly been made available by open access. The piece is by researcher Derek Law:
Academic Digital Libraries of the Future: An Environment Scan. New Review of Academic Librarianship, April 2009.
Libraries are attempting to face a future in which almost every fixed point has disappeared. Users are changing; content is changing; research is taking new forms. Indeed the very need for libraries is being questioned in some quarters. This paper explores the nature of the changes and challenges facing higher education libraries and suggests key areas of strength and core activities which should be exploited to secure their future.
Full text available here (if that doesn't work, here's the page link). I found out about this because of my Google Reader feed from iLibrarian.

It's not just academic libraries (see also: ref to closing public libraries). This is happening now, but it's not happening in a vaccuum. I feel as if we need to think, together, about our direction, and to figure out ways we can provide mentorship to aspirant librarians even in this dismal economy, and help to bridge the gap, even for those who are (despairing) looking, and not finding, library jobs.

Perhaps our social networking capabilities, all this web 2, 3, and onward, means something broader here, or could. Connections, open discourse, brainstorming. We have minds fresh from their educational experience - and we need them now. What can we give, and share? I read the embittered words of those young librarians, who feel fooled, and wanted to call out - Don't turn away!