Not quite there yet.

11 September 2012

Originally posted on 12 September 2012, after delivering a tech talk at the 10th Y4IT congress on digital signage and libraries.

I left the stage yesterday morning relieved that the talk went through without a hitch, and at the same time disappointed with my failure to engage the audience. I was talking about one way to reinvent how libraries inform users in the most techy manner I can imagine, but they all seemed to be in state of collective “meh.” In contrast, the audience at Joomla co-founder Johan Janssens’ talk seemed so engaged that the Q&A time became more of an interesting discussion on programming languages than the expected dead air.

Was it because I didn’t wear jeans? Was my presentation too plain and monographic? Was my voice monotonous? I spent the rest of the day thinking about how challenging it was for a librarian to take the stage in a congress where participants expect to hear about software development, programming, and other advanced computing topics. It seemed as if I, a librarian by profession, had no place in it. Not even for someone whose job would probably better fit the common description of an IT person.

Which brings me to one of my frustrations as a librarian. I spent four years in library school hearing professionals and students alike preach the “good news” of 21st-century librarianship - digital, dynamic, and engaging. Ideas such as “librarians are at the center of today’s information driven society” and “it’s about time that librarians turn techy” have been abound and were repeated endlessly throughout every single gathering of library professionals I’ve been to. And yet, outside the field, people still tend to conjure the same image of a librarian - anold-fashioned, boring, book-stamping and shushing folk who does nothing more on a computer than type documents, if he or she would ever use a computer at all. It’s as if the students yesterday expected me to be “ho-hum” because I had to be introduced as a librarian.

Most people, including a lot of librarians themselves, think of the profession as being concerned with safeguarding records of knowledge and history. My view tends to deviate: I think of the librarian as someone who makes information work for people by constantly seeking and building solutions to do just that. This is why I attended Information Systems classes and overworked on projects while all my peers went elsewhere. It’s a philosophy I’ve carried over as I entered the professional world; at work I spend all my time on a computer working on things ranging from video presentations and signage designs to websites and apps. I’m a librarian; that’s what I do.

A lot of librarians, besides myself, would probably want to align themselves with this view as well. Preoccupied with reinventing themselves and the field in its entirety, more and more library professionals see technology as their salvation from obsolescence. Computer literacy has become a life skill, and the ability to create solutions with it a much-prized skill. I think library people deserve a more important role in the information society than what is being given to them, not just being guardians of human heritage but also being an indispensable driving force for innovation and empowerment - the library as an engine for progress.
So, are we getting there? Saying “maybe” would do the profession injustice; it’s definitely a yes. Libraries on Facebook and Twitter? Already happening. Developer librarians? I’d love to be a living example. Such achievements are much celebrated within the field, but looking outside it and as yesterday’s talk made me realize, much still needs to be done. For one thing, the Information Technology subject, with its mostly trivial questions, remains to have the least weight in the licensure exam, almost as if being insignificant.

Perhaps I’m becoming impatient and increasingly frustrated. I am convinced that venturing into “other” realms such as IT is the right thing to do, yet I feel burdened by the image chained into my identity as a librarian. I never knew it would be difficult gaining momentum and engagement in a realm where people tend to deem people like you obsolete and irrelevant.

The new librarianship. We’re getting there, but we’re not quite there yet.