I remember when I got my first cell phone. I was 17, and my parents gave it to me for use only in emergencies. (My first car had a habit of breaking down.) I was one of the first of my friends to own one, and I almost never used it. It was about 2 inches thick and consisted only of a keypad and pull-out antenna (speed dial or phone directory? Pshhht. Yeah, right). It lived in the glove box of my car, and only came out to get charged once in a while. Today, my cell phone holds my entire life together. It stores contact information for everyone in my life, it keeps my schedule and alerts me when I have meetings or tasks to accomplish, it sends and receives emails for 6 accounts, it notifies me of the weather forecast for wherever I am or am planning to be, it reserves library materials for me, it entertains me endlessly with games, including social games (in which it beeps whenever it’s my turn), and it can even monitor my sleep patterns. Depending on my mood or need, it can be my calculator, TV, artists’ canvas, pedometer, GPS system, note taker, or camera (this list is not exhaustive). Oh, and it’s also my phone. In the span of fifteen years my cell phone went from being rarely used for making calls to…well, rarely used for making calls. The only difference is that I carry it with me everywhere now and actually use it…for everything except its original, intended purpose.
On page 105 of Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky states that “It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.” I take this statement to be one of both caution and excitement. It seems to carry an undertone of “ready or not, here I come!”
Many libraries/librarians seem troubled by the idea of not being at the cutting edge of technology. But, we shouldn’t be. Libraries inherently reflect society by selecting, collecting, disseminating, and preserving the very things and ideas that society produces. To me, this means it’s not our place to belly flop into the center of the anarchy and panic. We’re obligated to observe and make informed decisions (perhaps educated guesses is the best we can do given the circumstances) on how to move forward. This is not to say that librarians should not be innovative, progressive, or resilient (which Karen Munro elegantly speaks of in Resilience vs. Sustainability: The Future of Libraries). We have to be, especially in terms of what changes to make, when, and how, so we can continue to fulfill our mission in the most efficient and effective manner. This technology evolution (not revolution) is a call for us to reinterpret how we best collect and present information to the world, not to reinvent what or who we are as libraries and librarians. Our very value to society stems from our unique perspectives.
Shirky mentions that it is in the invisible phase in which really profound changes happen. While cautioning that it’s coming, he also acknowledges that we’re not quite there. We still have time to see how things are playing out as we redefine our strategies. We should experiment with technologies, take advantage of opportunities, and listen to our users to help inform our decisions. We should focus on making our voices heard in important conversations concerning privacy, rights management, and the many other issues that are currently clouding over amidst the changes taking place around us. Perhaps our physical presence as libraries and librarians will shift. Perhaps some of the changes that may ultimately better society will threaten at least some aspects of our profession, especially if we’re not at the front lines, but are we the 21st Century scribes? Personally, I think not. Librarians are unified in upholding a set of beliefs and common missions, and these are what set us apart from other points of view. If we stay open minded, become more versatile, and hold these values close as we navigate through precarious waters, I’m hopeful that we will not only survive, but flourish in coming years.
Weekly aha moment/challenge: This week, I felt more of a challenge than an aha moment. The readings, research for the textpert presentation, and class discussions have me realizing just how much of a struggle it is to keep up with changes. While I feel strongly that librarians have and will continue to have a place in society despite the changing landscape, I feel overwhelmed with the amount of work it takes to keep up-to-date with trends and to conceptualize strategies in such a chaotic time. As I processed through my post above, I do think the key is to hold tight to our identities as librarians while we march ahead into the unknown.