Monday, August 08, 2005

Hybrid Librarians

I read and enjoyed “Architect of Learning,” an article by Sam Allis in the July 30, 2005 issue of the Boston Globe, which discusses the bright future of college libraries. It is reassuring to read an optimistic forecast, and I wonder how the trends for college libraries transfer to public libraries. What struck me as strange in the story was the description of “hybrid personnel with technology and content expertise” helping students in the new libraries.

Because many college libraries have more money and specialized technical staffs, I think they are often ahead of most public libraries with technological innovations. They have more computers and more databases, write their own software, try and abandon gadgets, and study their services with the intent of writing scholarly reports. I attend LITA Forums to see what might work its way down to public libraries. When I read about these “hybrid personnel” I thought, “Hey, public libraries are ahead on this one.”

I know colleges have often been able to have specialists. One librarian might focus on acquiring Latin American documents, while another might be a bibliographic instructor. We have never been able to do this in smaller public libraries. We have always been “hybrid personnel.”

I am old enough to remember when we first got computers for the public in our community libraries. There seemed to be a lot of debate about how much we could help computer users, for many of us had few technical skills at that point. I remember libraries with signs saying that users were responsible for knowing how to use the machines. Library staff would give only minimal help, according to the signs. Thankfully that did not last long. We are born to help people. Those of us who were not already became “hybrid personnel with technology and content expertise” at that point.

Today it is hard for me to imagine a librarian is not a “hybrid.” Of course, the list of necessary skills keeps increasing. I am not keeping up with Jenny Levine, but I have her list of twenty five skills that librarians need (20 from T.H.E Journal and five of her own). I had better sign off and work on three or four skills before she adds another.

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