I read an intriguing post by Seth Godin about how future librarians could be more valuable to society. Godin claimed that with increasing access to free resources, we (as communities) should not be hiring someone to “guard” stacks of dusty books.

So I dug in. A quick search of Monster.com reveals some interesting things. First, the only organizations hiring “Librarians” are higher education (mostly smaller universities and community colleges, I assume the big schools don’t post online) and companies that need help with research. These job descriptions are tough – no less than 3 – 5 years experience PLUS a masters degree in library science (aka MSLS).

We SHOULD be looking for a curator, an impresario, an expert of ideas, people, and resources. Godin’s librarian listens and suggests people, readings, classes or anything else a person might need to expand their knowledge base and skill set. Libraries should offer leisure courses and operate as a collaborative workspaces to inspire new projects, businesses and studies within the community. And it is the librarian, with his/her vast knowledge of relatively disparate data and random resources who is trained to see connections, opportunities and guides members of his/her community towards them.  It is the librarian’s knowledge of growing fields and those of gaps that allows them to make connections for the library’s users.

1. Each community should set their own agenda or focus. I’m from Ohio, where a lot of smart, talented people lost their jobs in the downturn. With the closings of several manufacturing plants we’ve got a population of engineers and highly skilled labor that simply needs to focus less on an industry that is struggling to survive (American automotive) and instead on one that will grow to almost a $100bn industry in a few years time (clean energy).

This is the opportunity for each community to say what is most important to them and to holistically refocus every community resource to make them the leader in that field.

2. Reset expectations / qualifications. Maybe a MSLS is necessary for a college librarian helping students cite resources for their theses (not my experience, but whatevs). In most of the country, especially small towns and communities with strapped budgets, it would be much more beneficial to have someone who is resourceful (in a broader, less grad-student kind of a way) and knowledgable about more than the dewey decimal system. More Ben Franklin, less Laura Bush. It really depends on each communities pre-defined objectives as to recruit a librarian whose professional and academic experience mix supports their constituents.

3. Aside from the great “work-life-balance,” there need to be clear perks to the job. A good lesson to take from startups – relatively low dollar value things make significant improvements to people’s lives – autonomy, free food, Mac books, and feeling like your work has true impact can make up for a lot of monetary compensation. Throw in unlimited access to proprietary subscriptions and hell, you’ve almost convinced me to leave my job 😉

4. Connector – Everything is about people. But by having a personality at the center of our town’s knowledge, you’ll insert a human level of interaction to your town’s heritage, culture and curation. A person who knows everyone and can identify those human connections is much more likely to be able to reach people and garner buy-in and support for new initatives from the broader municipality.

5. Bring back the rec center. Learning is more than books. A community thrives on a diverse set of individuals and their talents. As such a library or community think tank should foster many different skill and knowledge sets. Offer classes on creating mobile applications and civic engagement and local fern identification… whatever!

My whole thing about technology is that it should be make my life better. As it gets more advanced, I expect it to take out the cumbersome manual tasks that annoy me. The same should be true for librarians. With more databases and resources, there should be an expectation that they (the librarians) will be available to host more enriching learning experiences and activities for the communities they serve.

When looking at relatively large data sets: say defunct retail properties or the dwindling population of bees all over the world, an analytical eye begins to see movement… and with more experience can identify powerful trends. Gaps are perhaps even more telling and point the way towards potential savings, efficiencies and even opportunity.

It’s going to take more people with a wide range of interests pulling available resources together to retool them for esoteric case uses, but that’s how we make products that are valuable to as many individuals as possible. Wouldn’t every community want to sponsor a person who brings those resources and people to the forefront of these opportunities (gaps)?

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