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The future of librarianship with Sharona Ginsberg, Library Journal Mover & Shaker

harona Ginsberg MakerBridge Coordinator; Instructional Technology Consultant, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Sharona Ginsberg
MakerBridge Coordinator; Instructional Technology Consultant, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Recent Mover & Shaker recipient Sharona Ginsberg took the time to answer some questions about where she sees librarianship headed.

As a recognized leader and innovator in our profession you obviously spend time thinking about how we can all better succeed serving our communities. Can you please tell us a little bit of where you see librarianship heading?

One of the biggest trends in modern libraries—and one of the most important—is the transformation of the library from a place of passive consumption to a place of active creativity. Librarianship is changing alongside this, and librarians are often called upon to be creators themselves, whether that means developing content and tutorials for library’s online services, writing code for the library’s website or mobile app, or even participating in the library’s makerspace.

I see this as a good thing, because libraries have always been much more than just media storage warehouses. Libraries are places of learning, and many of these trends go right along with current pedagogical thinking on the benefits of engaged and participatory learning.

Another growing trend is libraries’ attempts to “meet patrons where they are” as part of their outreach efforts, which many current and emerging technologies have made easier. This makes a lot of sense to me, because a library’s services and benefits shouldn’t have to stop at its walls. This type of outreach also helps increase the value of the library for those who have trouble visiting in person—for example, distance learners at a university, people with physical disabilities, those without reliable transportation, and so on.

How do you balance all the new responsibilities with traditional library work?

There are a few things libraries can be doing to create this balance. For one, it’s very helpful for new approaches to be championed and supported by institutions as a whole, rather than assigned to one or two specialists. If a library itself values something—integrating emerging technologies, principles of the maker movement, serving the underserved, etc.—and this value is present throughout the library’s work, it’s much easier for employees to commit themselves to this approach, and it won’t feel like a departure from their regular work.

Secondly, partnerships can make a huge difference. In terms of makerspaces, there is so much that can be accomplished simply by partnering with an existing local makerspace and/or makers in the community. This can eliminate the need for a huge budget, specialized training for librarians, and sometimes even equipment. Partnerships in all areas can help a library manage new services, programs, and responsibilities.

Finally, many of the new responsibilities should be replacing old responsibilities, or at least transforming them, rather than being piled on top. Much as it’s necessary to weed a collection to keep it manageable and useful, it’s important for libraries to continually evaluate themselves and their services to determine what is necessary to meet users’ needs, what has become outdated, and what is generally ignored or underused by patrons.

Where do you see opportunities for growth?

For me, obviously, makerspaces and the maker movement are important, so I see expansion into this area as a wonderful growth opportunity for libraries.

In line with this, I think there is a lot libraries can be doing (and some already are) to rethink their physical spaces. We often get very focused on the changes going on with digital spaces and services. We can apply this same attention to the physical space the library occupies. While there is nothing wrong with providing quiet study spaces or individual computer workstations, the library’s physical space can expand creatively beyond these things. While this might mean a makerspace, it might also mean a learning commons, collaborative group work areas, flexible spaces with moveable furniture–places where patrons can meet, work together, explore, play, and create.

What should librarians be doing to prepare for the future?

Above all, librarians should stay open-minded and patron-driven. Technology tools are nice, but technology changes quickly, as will the services that rely on it. It’s less important to be a whiz at any specific tool or system, and more important to be comfortable tackling new challenges and to embrace a mindset wherein innovation and experimentation is positive and encouraged. One of the central tenets of the maker movement is that failure is not devastating, but is simply a part of successful iteration. You don’t have to be an expert to explore something new and see where it can take you.

Something important I have learned in working on MakerBridge, my online library/school maker community, is to pay close attention to the needs of the community itself. As I’ve studied how people interact with us and our content, I’ve learned not to force people toward features of our website they simply aren’t interested in, but instead to adapt to what they clearly do care about. Libraries should work the same way; communities are all varied and different, so it’s essential to keep in tune with the interests and desires of yours.

Why is that important?

No matter what cool new trends or tools the library adopts, it will not be relevant if it does not address the needs and interests of its user base. Patrons need to be the focus and driving factor behind library services.