Military Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. We’re academic libraries, supporting Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees. We’re public libraries, complete with children’s story hours and retiree’s financial resources. We’re also other types of special libraries: medical; history; science, technology & engineering; intelligence; and headquarters support. The Military Libraries Division brings together members from all U.S. military services, Canadian Combined Armed Forces, international military services, contractors, vendors, academic institutions and anyone with an interest in military librarianship. Check us out at http://military.sla.org/. — Gloria Miller is a Librarian at the Headquarters, U.S. Army Materiel Command, Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville), Alabama. She is currently the Chair-Elect of the Military Libraries Division
by Ed Burgess, Heart of America Chapter, Military Libraries and Government Information Divisions
“[t]he Army must continually adapt to changing conditions and evolving threats to our security. An essential part of that adaptation is the development of new ideas to address future challenges.”
Army Operating Concept 2010
“The Army Learning Concept 2015 is an important component of our effort to drive change through a campaign of learning. It describes the learning environment we envision in 2015. It seeks to improve our learning model by leveraging technology without sacrificing standards so we can provide credible, rigorous, and relevant training and education for our force of combat seasoned Soldiers and leaders. It argues that we must establish a continuum of learning from the time Soldiers are accessed until the time they retire. It makes clear that the responsibility for developing Soldiers in this learning continuum is a shared responsibility among the institutional schoolhouse, tactical units, and the individuals themselves.”
TRADOC Pam 525-8-2, 20 Jan 2011, Army Learning Concept, forward, p. i.
Like most American institutions, the U.S. Army is in flux. Ten years of war, now in three theaters, has changed attitudes about what the institution needs to do to remain viable, relevant, and dominant. Librarians have a part of that discussion. We need to remain viable, relevant, and useful to decision-makers, or we will be replaced by Bing.
So, in the spirit of General (ret) Shinsheki*, I propose a set of development points that are going to be vital for military librarians to navigate through over the next few years. Some are broad issues in the library profession that are being played out in the military microcosm; others are specific to the milieu. Surmounting the challenges below will require all our technical and managerial skills. We can surmount all of them, but not by huddling in our bunkers. Librarians have changed with the profession, and we can continue to deal with rapid and disorienting change.
Libraries have changed more during my 40-year career than in the previous thousand years. Is that great, or what? It‘s a good day to be a librarian.
Ten points of conflict for the military librarian of the next decade:
- Libraries must welcome mobile devices. This should surprise no one. It‘s a reasonable assumption that every soldier has, or soon will have, a smart phone in his or her pocket. Will libraries be on speed-dial? Can libraries provide timely, relevant information quickly and easily, often without human intervention? Can libraries do that for a dispersed, harried, overworked, very determined clientele? Mobile accessibility is more critical to our survival with each passing year.
- Libraries, particularly the school libraries, must encourage alumni queries, not limit their work to current students. As learning trends more toward the lifelong model, we will see a wider spectrum of soldiers accessing our resources. Can a deployed Staff Sergeant find the current doctrine on developing training strategies in Central Africa? Can faculty find usable, relevant vignettes on command relationships? Our ability to deal with diverse customers and subjects must improve.
- Guard and Reserve students need access from their homes/armories. At my institution, we have about two thousand resident students, and at least triple that in distance education programs. Are those citizen soldiers served? Do they even know you exist?
- More and more, as managers we find ourselves embroiled in licenses and contracting minutiae. This will not get easier! Information aggregators and vendors will demand payment for their services, will require you to define your audience, and will increasingly place restrictions on the use, re-use, and transfer of their products. We‘ll have to mediate these licenses in an increasingly chaotic contracting and copyright environment.
- Management must be aware of library service requirements to residents and non-residents alike. This is something we should be doing all the time—making the bosses understand we provide a useful service. If they don‘t understand that, libraries will vanish. This isn‘t new, just continuing librarian responsibility. Educating your management is vital. Google may not kill the library, but senior managers who think Google can replace you, will.
- ILS are swiftly becoming obsolete. Web discovery systems are evolving quickly. Competing systems are cropping up in all directions. The idea of a specialized, expensive, labor-intensive tool that only displays the tiny percentage of your library’s assets is a nineteenth-century artifact. That’s not to say we can give up on cataloging books and maintaining inventory control. But we have to make it easier for folks to use our stuff.
- As with all levels of American society, military librarians must beware the Google-Wikipedia quick simple answer trap. Educating your clients about sources and provenance will serve them well all their lives.
- Conflicts between public release, unclassified but sensitive, and classified research are making life harder. Rules on operational security and Personally Identifiable Information are changing daily, often in bizarre ways. They are a fact of life, and a source of much pain.
- Education vs. training will be a constant friction point in military school systems, curricula, and civilian degree-granting institutions. Does the curriculum provide direct proficiency in a series of tasks, or does it broadly prepare soldiers and family members to respond in intelligent, knowledgeable ways to unexpected events?
- Copyright is becoming increasingly Byzantine and time-consuming; librarians by default become copyright cops. Lawyers involve themselves in the minutiae of posting anything on the Web.
* “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”
Ed Burgess is the director of the Combined Arms Research Library in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is practicing to become a windy curmudgeon in his old age.