Librarianship in the 21st Century (2011-01)

Librarianship in the 21st Century – Original English Version

This essay was written in January, 2011, for KNDU librarians and LIS students, translated to Japanese by Akio Hattori, and printed in the KNDU Librarian and School Librarian Program Newsletter, Vol. 6 (PDF, Japanese): 京都ノートルダム女子大学 司書 司書教諭課程・ニューズレター 第6号.

In the 21st century librarians must possess knowledge and skills that my high school librarian, Mrs. Ruark, could not have imagined in the 1960s. Although librarians today share much in common with their predecessors, developments in information and communication technology (ICT) continue to bring revolutionary challenges and opportunities to their ancient profession.

Every day a flood of “content” is released on the Web, and anyone can find popular information with large commercial search engines like Google. However, finding the most valuable materials for particular needs may require sophisticated information retrieval (IR) skills and, in some cases, knowledge of subject-specific gateways, databases, organizations, and repositories.

The publishing industry is changing dramatically with the appearance of books in electronic formats (ebooks), online periodicals, and news on the Web. Consumers use a variety of electronic devices, such as PCs, ebook readers, digital cameras, video cameras, sound recorders, and mobile phones. Ordinary people have become authors and publishers as they create Web sites and blogs, participate in social networking (Facebook, etc.) and microblogging (Twitter, etc.), and share their photos (Flikr, etc.), audio recordings (iTunes, etc.), and videos (YouTube, etc.). Librarians must keep up with changes in technology, data formats, and trends in publishing in order to make wise acquisitions and serve their patrons well.

The legal use of materials requires understanding of intellectual property rights and restrictions. The use of copyrighted materials may be severely restricted or very open, depending on the conditions under which those materials are released. Without a clear understanding of copyright laws and conditions of use, it is quite easy to break the law.

Many librarians now create and maintain digital repositories in which digital objects such as texts, images, audio recordings, or video recordings are prepared, cataloged, and organized into collections. Some objects are digitized from handwritten or printed materials, audio recordings, photographs, films, or videotape, and some objects are born digital. Many repositories are accessible on the Internet, and now metadata about many collections can be harvested automatically for subject gateways and other information services. Digital repositories can be extremely valuable for the preservation and sharing of cultural heritage materials, creative works, research data, papers, monographs, and educational resources. Some universities have even placed the contents of entire courses on the Internet. Twenty-first century librarians must understand the principles of good digital collections, and they must be able to collaborate with members of their communities, technology experts, and others to make their collections valuable and accessible.

The 21st century is a very challenging time for those of you who study and practice librarianship. You need knowledge and skills that previous generations could not imagine. However, whatever challenges you may face, remember your predecessors. For thousands of years librarians have been accumulating knowledge and wisdom, and they have used their professional skills to serve their communities and maintain the vitality of human civilization. So will you.

Published by Greg Peterson

Professor Emeritus, Kyoto Notre Dame University (1977-2020). Since 1980 I have lived in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, where I enjoy outdoor activities, especially photography, hiking, and cycling.

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