The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte

What Is a Shifted Librarian?

So I call myself "The Shifted Librarian," but what does that mean? I took the name from a presentation that I do called "Information Shifting" about how the change from pursuing information to receiving information is and will be affecting libraries.

You can see the presentation at http://www.sls.lib.il.us/infotech/presentations/shifting/index.htm, but please note that it's a bit disorganized and it desperately needs to be updated. Rest assured it's on the to-do list. In fact, I'll be posting to this blog many of the ideas and trends I will be adding to the presentation.

So back to the definition of information shifting. It comes from a New York Times article that discussed the history of consumer fair use and the entertainment industry's efforts to regulate use of VCRs and MP3 players. It referred to the 1984 Supreme Court decision in favor of VCRs in which the judges declared that these devices were okay because consumers were using them to "time shift." In other words, to record shows to watch them at their convenience.

Next up was a case in 1999 over the Diamond Rio MP3 player. Industry folk argued that consumers were illegally transporting digital files on it, but the judges decided that consumers were simply "space shifting," which meant they were just taking music they already owned and listening to it somewhere else. That's a very brief summary of the court cases, but what the article pointed out was that information in general was being shifted now that it was digital.

Take that to its logical conclusion, and you realize that people aren't going out to get information anymore. Instead, it's coming to them. Think about that for a second and you'll recognize the truth in it. After all, don't you feel information overload in your own life? That's because information is coming to you from everywhere now. Most of it may be noise, but focused information can come to you in new and more efficient ways than ever before.

If you read through my presentation, you'll see that I concentrate on how this trend will affect libraries in the future, mainly through its impact on the Net generation. Did you know that there are more NetGens than there are Baby Boomers? And you know what kind of an impact those folks had on our culture! If you're around kids at all today, you can see how differently they think and act about information and technology. I live with a six-year old and a seven-year old, and periodically I'll relate stories proving this point.

To my mind, the biggest difference is that they expect information to come to them, whether it's via the Web, email, cell phone, online chat, whatever. And given the tip of the iceberg of technology we're seeing, it's going to have a big impact on how they expect to receive library services, which means librarians have to start adjusting now. I call that adjustment "shifting" because I think you have to start meeting these kids' information needs in their world, not yours. The library has to become more portable or "shifted."

Therefore, a "shifted librarian" is someone who is working to make libraries more portable. We're experimenting with new methods, even if we find out they don't work as well as we thought they would. Sometimes, we're waiting for our colleagues, our bosses, and even the kids to catch up, but we're still out there trying. And please don't think I don't love books and print, because I do. No amount of technology will ever replace them, and libraries will always be a haven for books. It's the extras that I'm concentrating on, especially as we try to serve our remote patrons.

So welcome to the online life of a shifted librarian. I'm glad you're coming along for the ride, because it's going to be fun. I promise.