The new role held by librarians has long been a recurring theme at library conferences, in occupational journal articles and in discussions between professionals. Virtual library services and the generally broad use of Internet search engines have created new roles for both library users and library employees. In addition to the traditional intermediary role, the library produces new content for the Internet. New skills, but above all, new attitudes are called for.
Librarians are not the only ones who have to accept new settings. Teachers’ long-lost authority has brought new challenges into schools and teaching, doctors tell about patients who are convinced they have found out already on the Internet what they suffer from and how to cure the disease, they just want the prescription. Librarians have to accept that the person seeking information may be the one who knows best which answers are relevant in the context. Many library users may actually know a lot about what one can find on the Internet when focusing on special issues, or about new technology.
The right answer has become a question of judgment. There are certainly still questions which can be answered rightly or wrongly, and most people today can find answers to these questions by themselves. Depending on the source and how the question is presented, they can be quite sure that they have found the right answer – a question posed in the wrong way can, however, yield an incorrect answer, even in a reliable search engine.Wikipedia is not 100% reliable – far from it. Quite often the right answer depends on who is asking and for what purpose.
The library provides the individual with personal service – this is one of the library’s trump cards in the era of search engines – whether it be a question of face-to-face service or some type of ‘Ask-A-Librarian’ service on the Internet. It has to do with communication and teamwork between the one posing questions and the one assisting in finding answers relevant to the context. And naturally it is also a question of profound professional know-how, a question of a functioning system for organizing information and knowledge, a question of a functioning search technique.
Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition was published in 1979, but it may actually only be now that we really see the results of a sweeping change as regards thinking and attitudes. When the meta-narratives, for instance religion, or politics, have lost their obvious legitimacy, then almost everything else can be called into question, and it will all be increasingly more a question of individual choice.
Anthony Giddens’ The Consequences of Modernity was published in the beginning of the 1990s. According to Giddens, the post-traditional society is characterized by increased possibilities of building up one’s own identity. A wide range of options require that the individual reflect on various possibilities.
In the process of finding relevant answers something happens that essentially has to do with building up identities and individual world views.
The postmodern, post-traditional information seeker wants to contribute and communicate. The semantic web and what is sometimes – a bit maliciously – called the social amateurs’web, pose yet again new demands on the attitude of the librarian. Cooperation with the users in areas, which have previously been restricted to the library professional, may seem difficult to accept. Furthermore, there seems to be a constant race against time – if the wikilibrary is the big thing now, soon there will be something else. No way can libraries keep up with the swift changes.
Do we need a long-term survival strategy for libraries? What is the core of library know-how, what is the added value of library services? What positions are worth defending, what positions should librarians just let go? Anticipating Library 3.0 with personalized services and follow-up profiles, and, no doubt about it, a need to accommodate new phenomena – there are some burning questions to answer.
Counsellor for Library Affairs
Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland
barbro.wigell-ryynanen AT minedu.fi
Translated by Turun Täyskäännös