In her keynote talk opening the second day of the Computers in Libraries conference, author and cultural analyst Patricia Martin had the audience on their feet chanting “Right place; Right time.” It’s the perfect time to be a librarian, she assured us. Digital is changing who we are as librarians and is affecting the role of libraries in the community.
Her research into identity and ambition stemmed from a NASA request for help in determining how to reposition NASA to reach out to younger people and get them interested in space exploration. After algorithmically mining several Big Data sources and following 90 young people for 5 years, Martin concluded that our institutions are losing their impact. Job status, family, location, and organized religion are losing relevance, which puts us into situation of role ambiguity. People are feeling stressed about their identity.
This led Martin to postulate that a new relationship between ambitions and identity had 3 parts: Rope, Edgepart, and Muster. Our identity today is more like a rope of many strands than a linear yardstick. As we change jobs, move around, and try out different personas, we’re adding strands to our ropes. Edgepart makes us good at change so we can survive. Muster encourages us to start small to achieve big goals. Start with small teams, not advisory committees of 50 people.
Librarians should concentrate on “who.” Who do we want our patrons to be? She thinks we should see the user experience as a path to discovery and that the library should be seen as a community. Identity rituals, such as getting a library card, can solidify the community ideal. Who do we want as colleagues for our small teams, big goals? Who do we want to be as librarians? It’s not about providing information anymore since nobody needs more information.
The job of the librarian is much broader than in the past. It’s about growing and building community. Librarians don’t have a job, they have a platform for change. People need to be inspired and, through libraries, imaginations that are raised and expanded.
Right place; Right time.