Last Monday, Brooklyn Public Library had its Staff Development Day at Brooklyn College. The entire workforce of +/-1600 people were in attendance for a day of all kinds of workshops. The most thought provoking workshop I attended was a presentation from Josh Greenberg, Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship at New York Public Library.
The presentation was called “Ensuring Relevance: Library Identity in a Digital Landscape”. Josh is moving NYPL forward in some really interesting directions. One of the most interesting things he described about the Digital Strategy group at NYPL is the nature of their relationship to the IT department at NYPL.
Josh’s description of that relationship: “a line was drawn.” Everything at the software application level up is Digital Strategy department territory, and everything from the hardware down is a piece of the institutional infrastructure. Making this distinction essentially moves quite a bit of technology into the programmatic side of the house, and really sets the stage for librarians to use a whole new toolbox to interact with their patrons. He spoke to the idea that “blogging and participating in online communities should be a part of librarians jobs.” He invoked concepts like “going to the places where our patrons are rather than making them come to us.” That has always been a traditional line in outreach strategy, but it takes on a whole different meaning when we are talking about library presence on the now fully socialized web.
Here’s a supporting excerpt from Michael Stephen’s ‘Changing Role of IT’ chapter of his blog post ‘Ten Trends & Technologies for 2009’:
“Librarians will play active roles in IT governance in their institutions. The days of a locked door that no one but IT personnel is allowed to enter will be gone. And – LIS education must address the changing needs of the IT/Library hybrid and enhance the skill sets of emerging grads. People skills, negotiation skills and enabling effective communication across all levels of an institution will be very important for these new IT/Librarian professionals. The days of hunching over code in a basement office may be fading.”
Myself, I’m pretty excited to see projects originating in public libraries pop up all over the web: whether the content was made by the staff or the patrons. I’m excited to see library brands become user-defined, malleable, transient, and meme-like. I’m also really pleased to see institutions like NYPL making an effort to support that kind of library work via their organizational structure, policies, and job descriptions. Shifting resources toward digital projects is tough, especially when resources are scarce and core services like providing access to books remain identity-driven activities for the library. My feeling is that public libraries with dwindling funds should start adjusting policies and job descriptions to support digital initiatives, and in turn position themselves well to shift their resources after this recession. I trust the good will and intentions of public librarians to naturally create this library presence on the web as long as they are encouraged to do so by their supervisors, policies, and job requirements. Restrictive policies just plain need to disappear.
Not every library offers titles like ‘Digital Producer’, but EVERY librarian has the potential to be a digital producer. That is the beauty of these here interwebs. The webs are easy for us to produce things on now. It is that simple, we just have to do it.