Heroes, warriors and revolutionaries: bloodshed in the library of the future?

This afternoon I attended JISC’s Libraries of the Future conference in Oxford. I was in the Second Life version of the conference and I think I probably got the better part of the debate. Whilst the Real Life talks were OK, there wasn’t really that much I hadn’t heard before, albeit dressed up with different examples. The other Second Lifers seemed to agree and their responses to the speakers were probably more deeply interesting (in a ‘flashes of inspiration’ kind of way) than the general, bobbing along kind of interest from the floor in Real Life (RL).

One Second Lifer (SLer) called Lulu Quinnell, who seemed to be what I would call a librarian, calls herself an Information Warrior and has this on her business card. This was particularly interesting to me because I’ve just written an article for JISC’s Libraries of the Future campaign called Holding out for a Hero: technology, the future, and the renaissance of the university librarian, which was based on insights I’ve garnered from working on various TechWatch reports over the last few years. I’m certainly not pretending to have coined a term, or even a concept, but I think it’s interesting that this type of image is starting to be associated with a ‘new’ breed of librarian – another SLer, JJ Drinkwater used the term ‘Information Hero’, and Chris Batt, one of the RL speakers, used the term ‘Knowledge Warriors’.

My personal preference, based on what I’ve seen from the TechWatch perspective, is for more of an advocacy role, hence the hero (although, if you’ve read the ‘Holding out for a Hero’ piece you’ll know that I’m not averse to a bit of bloodshed where necessary). However, whilst I was listening to the conference I was wondering how ordinary, workaday librarians feel about their profession being put under a microscope like this. Do they feel a bit miffed by all these people telling them how they should do their job? Owain Blessed (another librarian SLer) said that his staff wanted more time to engage with developments in the profession and Vienna James (SL) put forward the idea of LIS graduate studies courses including courses on innovation, so it does seem like there is a real interest in engaging with both the issues and the technology. So maybe it’s just the rest of us that are antsy because perhaps we don’t feel we can see anything emerging.

In the ‘Holding out for a Hero’ piece I make the point that one of the big tasks is to make people realise that library stuff is sexy. The starting point for this has to be a question for librarians, namely: what inspires you about your job? What is it about what you do that gets you about of bed in the morning? That’s the essence of what other people will find interesting and is at the heart of what librarians, at any point in time, have to offer.