Hello from the nation’s capital! DC/SLA is excited to be contributing all of this week’s FutureReady365 posts (thanks to our future-thinking Communications Secretary, Chris Vestal). We are a diverse community of 800+ information professionals, with members from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, as well as 30 other U.S. states and 12 countries. You’ll see this diversity reflected in the range of future ready ideas presented in posts throughout the week. We hope our posts will spark some thought and conversation and, of course, your comments. Most of all, we want to help keep the spark of the FutureReady blog alive – a spark that’s become a fire, gathering us around it to brainstorm our way into the future. — Mary Talley, DC/SLA President (2011)
by Gretchen Sauvey, Washington, DC Chapter, Knowledge Management Division
Charles Darwin is often misquoted as having said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” While Darwin may not have said this, his theory of evolution is a very fitting metaphor for the state of special libraries and how we are becoming future ready.
Where are we now? The main idea of the theory of evolution is that survival of a species depends on its evolutionary fitness, which is measured by how well its genes are carried into future generations. For librarians, fitness can perhaps best be measured by our effectiveness at serving the organizations we work for. Budgets, staff sizes, physical space, even organizational cultures, all these things can have an impact on our effectiveness, but the more effective we are, the more likely it is that we will survive. This shouldn’t be news to anyone; there have been countless seminars, workshops, classes, and books on becoming more effective librarians in one way or another. We are all working towards this goal every day, striving to provide the services that our organizations need.
How do we maintain our fitness? In evolutionary theory, adaptation is the process by which a species becomes better suited to its environment so that it can survive. When that environment is changing, because of climate change, human intervention, or other factors, it’s the most adaptable species that survives. We all know that change is happening in our profession. In my own job during the past nine months alone I’ve moved offices twice, taken on multiple new daily responsibilities as other staff members have left, and been in three different departments, all with the same job title. If I couldn’t have adapted, and quickly, I would have been left behind. For all special librarians an ability to adapt is vital right now, and prior posts on this very blog have given numerous suggestions for cultivating the skills to do this.
Will future special librarians look the same? Speciation is one way that organisms evolve, with different groups taking on new characteristics from their ancestors to fit different environmental niches. As a member of the Knowledge Management department, I can see this at work every day. While KM is clearly an offspring of librarianship, it has also taken on its own characteristics as well. A similar process is happening in other areas of special librarianship, under names like records management, information architecture, and countless others. This diverging spreads the ‘genes’ of librarianship even though these offspring may not carry the name librarian. By moving into these niches in our organizations we can help guarantee the survival of our profession, even if the name librarian becomes extinct.
Darwin is also misquoted as saying, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Special librarians are collaborating and improvising every day, and I think we will prevail if we can evolve into twenty-first century librarians.
Gretchen Sauvey is the Senior Knowledge Management Specialist at the United States Institute of Peace and the Recording Secretary for the DC chapter of SLA. She also blogs at http://gretchens-world.blogspot.com when she can find the time.