Letters from ALCTS

bruce chr. johnson, alcts president

From the President

Library Transformation

ALA President Leslie Berger has chosen the concept of transformation as the focal issue of her presidency:

“We know that when libraries are transformed either by new service programs, renovations, or new buildings that the communities we serve are in turn transformed. Our users’ relationship with the library changes, they become advocates and passionate supporters for what we do, and learn in new and different ways.” (Leslie Berger, personal website)

In many ways, ALCTS members have been witnesses to, and participants in, the transformation in the very nature of libraries. The concept of “library” (see The WWW Virtual Library) has been transformed from a brick and mortar location to an information portal. This transformation has been on-going for many years and is accelerating.

How people seek information has radically changed. Many have come to expect a search experience that differs radically from traditional library online catalogs. Look at Google. They are providing a very simple search experience. Although we as librarians are acutely aware of Google’s limitations, the reality is that many like the Google search experience because they feel that it enables them to get things done. The old term for that was “user friendly.”

The type of information that we have traditionally dealt with is rapidly evolving. With it comes a new type of clientele with new expectations for what library information will do for them.

I sincerely doubt that many ALCTS members believe that the competencies they learned in library oh those many years ago will carry them through to retirement, at least not without considerable enhancement and transformation. In this column I would like to take a few moments to focus on transforming our competencies ... and becoming competent in transformation.

At the Bicentennial Conference on Bibliographic Control held in 2000, conference participants noted several core competencies that would be essential in the coming years: flexibility, evaluative skills, analytic stills, partnering skills; tolerance of criticism; willingness to take risks. Note that learning more about AACR2 was not on that list.

A number of continuing education courses have arisen from the Bicentennial Conference. ALCTS is a partner in both the development and delivery of these courses. Two topics are particularly interesting for their new direction: “Metadata and Digital Library Development,” and “Digital Project Management for the 21st Century.”

ALCTS will be holding a symposium at Midwinter titled “Definitely Digital,” where distinguished speakers such as Lorcan Dempsey (OCLC), Dr. James Hilton (University of Virginia), Meg Bellinger (Yale), and Greg Tananbaum (author, consultant, and former president, Berkeley Electronic Press) will challenge us to explore the future of knowledge.

Similarly, this year’s ALCTS President’s Program will feature noted library educator and author, Peter Morville, author of “Ambient Findability.” Peter will challenge us to rethink the nature of collection development and organization with an eye towards how people seek information ... how they think.

In the coming months I would like to explore with you other transformational challenges that we face: the changing nature of library catalogs, library information, and how people search; the changing nature of library patrons and how that affects collection development and technical services; and the changing nature of ALCTS and how we are trying to position our association to take a lead in revolutionary library change. As we begin to populate the new ALCTS strategic plan with tactical initiatives, I urge you to consider where we are going without rejecting where we have come from.

“The future is longer than the past.” ( Arlene Taylor, Professor Emerita, University of Pittsburgh)