Thursday, December 17, 2015

Librarians change lives!

New Narratives for Librarians 
Military Libraries Training Workshop 
December 7, 2015 

R. David Lankes 

(Adapted from notes by Michael F. Moore, December 11, 2015 -

At the Military Libraries Training Workshop, the opening speaker was the most inspiring, with a message of how to develop new narratives to tell our stories.

David Lankes, professor at the Syracuse University iSchool, presented the idea that sometimes narratives get in the way of our work. Many of the narratives that people hold about libraries and librarians are outdated.

Dr. Lankes mentioned the book Biblio Tech by John Palfrey.  In his book Dr. Palfrey talks about the nostalgia for libraries.  Most everyone has a nostalgia for libraries based on their childhood visits to the local public library.  The problem for us is that libraries are not the same thing that they were 10, 20, 40 years ago.

He presented three outdated narratives that information professionals should consider changing. Here are brief descriptions of these three, as well as the new narratives he recommends to replace them.

Library Users Consume

Words matter.  Words such as “customer” and “user” suggest a passive, transactional experience. Dr. Lankes says a better narrative is “Libraries as Communities,” which uses words such as “community” and “member” to imply a group of people working together as allies and neighbors. Dallas public libraries uses the term neighbors to emphasize their role as part of the community.

Libraries define Librarians:

We often say “the library provided this.” Implying that the library does our work minimizes the value of the individuals making libraries successful. Also, definitions of libraries are outdated, yet we let those definitions stay in place. David’s new definitions provide valuable updates to our narrative:
  • Librarian: The Mission of Librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation (learning) within their communities 
  • Library: a mandated and facilitated space supported by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation (learning).

Libraries improve society!

Neutrality Equals Trust

We provide a valuable service to our community. Part of our service is the discernment and authority we provide when we answer questions and provide resources.  There’s a notion that people trust us because we are neutral about information.

But that isn’t accurate.  We make decisions based on our knowledge and understanding all the time.  We make decisions about which titles to purchase.  Any given topic is likely to have differing opinions.  We don’t always offer the differing opinions as being equal.

We should ensure that the value of our analysis and knowledge is included in our products.  Our intellectual integrity lies in recognizing our bias (perspective) and acting as an ethical professional who makes choices and decisions.  People don’t trust us because we are neutral.  They trust us because we are consistent in our decisions and policy.  Librarians become trusted partners.

The old narratives of customers, libraries, and neutrality led to passive people accessing passive services, while the new narratives of members, librarians, and intellect lead to learners improving with partners.

We need to build and safeguard our infrastructure and dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Find the advocates for what we do. We need to talk about the money saved by the work of our librarians. 

Librarians change lives!

In telling our story – we need data to make our stories matter.  We need stories to make our data relevant. - the full presentation (slides with audio is at

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