he Human Network | The Digital Shift

Excerpted from BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey
The librarians who are thriving most consistently in the digital era are those who have found a way to operate as a node in a network of libraries and librarians. They are agents of change, actively creating the future instead of constantly reacting to it—or worse, resisting it. Jessamyn West, [a] librarian in rural Vermont [and a 2002 LJ Mover & Shaker], is one such creative, networked librarian. West is connected to her peers both in libraries and in other information-related environments, including the world of technology. She is partway through a project to visit all 183 public libraries in Vermont, which she is also mapping online using a service called BatchGeo. By meeting with librarians and library users across Vermont, West is learning firsthand about the needs of her colleagues and their patrons. West also sees beyond the immediate context in which she is operating: she seeks to operate at scale and to bring the best ideas in the library world to her patrons and her many readers on social media.
Don’t go it alone

The view of oneself as operating in a network, not in an independent silo, is essential to success for librarians. Sarah Houghton, the San Rafael Public Library, CA, director, is a champion at networked communications and leadership. Here’s how she describes herself on her popular blog Librarian in Black: “I am a big technology nerd and I believe in the power of libraries to change lives. Combined, they make a fearsome cocktail. I have been called an iconoclast, a contrarian, a future-pusher, and a general pain in the ass. I take great pride in each.” LJ named Houghton one of its “2009 Movers & Shakers” as a trend-spotter.

Houghton’s library has recast itself for the digital era. Neither overly committed to the past nor oblivious to the physical, the San Rafael Public Library is aiming its programs squarely at the digital-plus present in which its patrons are living. The library blends electronic resources, attractive events for kids, and traditional library services tailored to the interests of the public of San Rafael.

Houghton also takes her case on the road, which enables her to bring the best ideas she encounters back to San Rafael and also to share with other libraries what San Rafael is doing. As a prolific public speaker and writer, Houghton makes the case for networked librarianship through her blog, on Twitter, and at conferences for the digitally infused library.

The aptly named Melissa Techman, a teacher and librarian in Albemarle County, VA, is another dynamic woman who is blazing the trail for librarianship. Techman fears that there is far too little collaboration at the local level in libraries. She has set out to connect with others in both the library field and the information management field and has gotten involved in all kinds of projects. Techman watches webinars, joins Google hangouts, and works continuously to develop an online network. Recently, she became involved with the National Writing Project and NEXMAP, which aims to add circuitry to the traditional notebook in a project called “Hacking the Notebook.” If successful, Techman’s innovative work could spread beyond the world of libraries to other settings in which students learn—where they learn to write, for instance. Techman ran a Pinterest board for School Library Journal called “Cheap and Cheerful Librarian Tips,” which linked her interest in DIY arts and crafts projects with her library work.

Librarian, technician, politician

Techman also sees herself as a political actor. More librarians need to see themselves in this light and to be prepared, as Techman is, for the inevitable hard conversations about library budgets and services. She has built an email list of her local library supporters who are willing to write to politicians to press them to avoid cuts to library funding when the inevitable budget ax begins to swing. Librarians like Techman know that their activities need to be tightly aligned with the needs of their communities and that they need to be loud about making the case for this alignment. The very same information networks that support libraries in sharing knowledge can help support librarians as political actors.