by Gwen Alexander
As the dean of the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how we should be offering learning experiences that will support 21st century librarians. The two most important skills that come to mind immediately are both related to “change”: 1) leading/planning for change and 2) recognizing change as opportunity. New technologies and global developments have accelerated the pace of change recently, which engenders related questions: How shall librarians learn the skills of adapting to change, recognizing opportunities, and planning and implementing changes for the future? Are these skills that can be taught in a master’s level course? How do people learn to discern change that adds value from change that harms? What about unintended consequences that result from change and its inherent opportunities? How can leaders of change overcome competing commitments to traditional librarianship?
In That Used to Be Us, written by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, the authors discuss the unique role America plays in providing important public services across the globe and the consequences of failing to renew domestic sources of American prosperity and strength. They argue that a strong, pro-market federal government is necessary to create favorable conditions that promote private enterprise. I would add that one of these domestic sources has been, and continues to be, our libraries and the ethic of freedom of access to information for everyone. If this is true, librarians and supporters of libraries are tasked with the responsibility of updating libraries and library services to keep them relevant to 21st century information needs. To accomplish this task, we need to know what is relevant to meeting 21st century information needs.
I think our libraries need to focus on being community information/learning centers that support education and information literacy from birth through old age. Providing access to the world of knowledge (far more than the basic subjects in formal education) in a variety of formats is still what libraries and librarians do best. Libraries are not repositories for books, computer labs, or quiet places—they are educational institutions that are vital to all age groups. We need to make sure that the general public and individuals who are part of the funding process understand that libraries are necessary to the initial and continuing education of all age groups, from birth to old age.
I began with the idea that librarians need the skills to plan and lead change and recognize change that brings additional opportunities. I am ending with the thought that all change is not necessarily for the good and we need to be able to recognize the difference so we can know which path to choose. The “good” changes are those that support libraries as community information/learning centers. SLIM has initiated a concentration in Leadership and Administration that includes courses in management, leadership and leading change, marketing and public relations, and a choice of courses focused on public libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries. Recognizing the need for change, planning change, and implementing change are taught across the curriculum. This is the change we have made as our response to the need to educate students in how to move forward in our changing profession and environment and contribute to the library and information management field as professionals in the future.
Gwen Alexander is the Dean of Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management.