For the past year or so I've been developing a model for the role and purpose of 21st century librarianship. I've shared it with friends and colleagues, and made a few initial drafts. Today I am going public with it, and invite your reactions and critiques.
The central question: How should librarianship evolve as information is increasingly born digital? The model I present here is one attempt to frame that question. Of course many talented people are already considering this question--people like David Lankes or Karen Schneider, to name just a few. My effort here is my initial contribution to this conversation. Here goes.
Starting point: I believe it is the most exciting time in history to be a librarian. Everything that has been settled for decades or sometimes centuries--our understanding of monographs and serials and classification systems and cutter numbers--assumes a physical object residing on a physical shelf. Since this assumption no longer always holds, we have an opportunity to redefine and re-vivify our cultural role.
Where we've been: In order to envision the future we need to honor where we have been. As the model shown below indicates, librarians and archivists have heretofore enjoyed a stable role as "stewards" of discrete objects. The interaction between creators, distributors and stewards is predictable and all roles are clear.
Where we are going: Today the predictablity described above has vanished. In its place is an engrossing conversation about what counts as knowledge and how to preserve our digital records. Today's librarians and archivists are still stewards, but within a landscape that is ever shifting. We can direct this shifting because we can influence the definition of a knowledge object--sometimes these will be wiki entries or computer code, for example. The end of sharing knowledge has not changed, but the means for doing so have increased exponentially. As the model below depicts, today's conversation between stewards and creators and distributors is multi-directional and ongoing. Steward are at the top of the circle on purpose.
How to use this model: This model is best used as a way to frame "big questions" about our professional future. It's not designed to address daily operational challenges. That said, to the extent that the model influences a library's priorities it will impact staffing needs and what happens on a daily basis. I am happy to discuss how to use it with anyone, and it would be great to partner together to refine and improve it.