Friday, April 04, 2008

Librarianship: The Tech Problem

Special thanks to MFA Jane, who let me rant about this a few weeks ago and clarify my thoughts.

Meredith Farkas--"Building 21st Century Librarians AND Libraries.
Dorothea Salo--Naturalizing Systems Librarians.

Both Farkas and Salo make excellent points about the lack of skills surrounding information technology among our current population of librarians and library students, and the fact that library schools don't seem to be capable of teaching the skills or getting it into people's heads that these are competencies necessary in our new information age.

I think that they are missing an important point though--who's going to library school? It's now about 50/50 people fresh out of undergrad and career changers these days, but it is still overwhelmingly liberal arts types. Female too.

We're not necessarily people who get exposed to technology, who can see the need to integrate it into daily life for personal or professional reasons, or want to. I mean, I know exactly how I fell into the digital gap 20 odd years ago and the reasons why I haven't been able to climb out. And why I don't need or want to. I like my Google, email and ebooks and I like my notebook and pens. Each fulfills my needs in different ways.

So in my mind you have a choice--you can either do your best to draw more technologically able people into the profession (not likely, but possible) or you can figure out a way to make these skills accessible to the population librarianship draws.

When I ask people who in one breath bitch about librarians' lack of tech skills how they got their tech skills and what they would recommend as a starting place, what books perhaps, classes, whatever, I invariably get a vague answer like "I just did/things." Or "A friend introduced me to it."


It's like if I wanted to learn Spanish and asked someone how he learned Spanish and got the answer, "Oh, I went to Caracas and after a week, boom! I spoke Spanish." In other words, not much help.

Advice like "play around!" "don't be afraid to experiment!" and "find someone to teach you things!" don't work if a) you don't even have the vocabulary to describe what you don't know and b) don't have a firm idea of what it is you are supposed to know and c) where you're even supposed to start in order to learn these things.

So, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say we'd try to be 21st century librarians, if only you could help us in concrete ways to develop the skills you're bemoaning the fact we don't have.

It cuts both ways. And I do think that a lot of this is related to different generations, gender differences, to male/female learning styles and the ways we learn and the informal transfer of information and skills between people (which is what I'd study if I went onto a library/information science doctorate)

Also, can we please stop using "technology" as a broad catchall phrase for these skills and practices? Tell us precisely what it is that we should know that constitutes "technology skills." Should we know how to program? How to run a server? Kent's IAKM Computer Literacy Skills Checklist? I don't think Kent's new Information Technology for Library and Information Professionals sounds like it's enough. The word "technology" is so broad it means nothing--chimps using a stick to poke out ants is an example of "technology."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the word "technology" should be retired due to overuse at this point...along w/ words like "awesome"...