I had lunch recently with Paul Signorelli, who’s active in helping libraries with digital literacy, and during the conversation he talked about his vision of the future of the library. What I heard was a vision of libraries moving beyond content to be about learning, and this had several facets I found thought-provoking.
Now, as context, I’ve always been a fan of libraries and library science (and librarians). They were some of the first to deal with the issues involved in content organization, leading to information science, and their insight into tagging and finding is still influencing content architecture and engineering. But here we’re talking about the ongoing societal role of libraries.
First, to be about learning, it has to be about experience, not content. This is the crux of a message I’ve tried to present to publishers, when they were still wrestling with the transition from book to content! In this case, it’s an interesting proposition about how libraries would wrap their content to create learning experiences.
Interestingly, Paul also suggested that he was thinking broader, about how libraries could also point to people who could help. This is a really intriguing idea, about libraries becoming a local broker between expertise and needs. Not all the necessary resources are books or even print, and as libraries are now providing video and audio as well as print, and on to computer access to resources beyond the library’s collection, so too can it be about people.
This is a significant shift, but it parallels the oft-told story of marketing myopia, e.g. about how railroads aren’t about trains but instead are about transportation. What is the role of the library in the era of the internet, of self-help.
One role, of course, is to be the repository of research skills, about digital literacy (which is where this conversation had started). However, this notion of being a center of supporting learning, not just a center of content, moves those literacy skills to include learning as well! But it goes further.
This notion turns the role of a library into a solution: whether you need to get something done, learn something, or more, e.g. more than just learning but also performance support and social, becoming the local hub for helping people succeed. He aptly pointed out how this is a natural way to use the fact that libraries tend to exist on public money; to become an even richer part of supporting the community.
It’s also, of course, an interesting way to think about how the locus of supporting people shifts from L&D and library to a joint initiative. Whether there’s still a corporate library is an open question, but it may be a natural partner to start thinking about a broader perspective for L&D in the organization. I’m still pondering the ways in which libraries could facilitate learning (just as trainers should become learning facilitators, so too should librarians?).