empower – give (someone) the authority or power to do something – Oxford Dictionary of American English
Someone whom I greatly admire recently set me thinking about the mission of librarians. David Lankes has that effect on many of us. In a talk late last year at the Digital Library Fall Forum, Lankes recast the usual statement about the mission of libraries in a provocative way.
One of the first things he did was to insist that we stop talking about the mission of libraries and start talking about the mission of librarians. It’s librarians who make a difference, not our buildings. He then went on to recast the typical mission statement to something much better:
The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities
Now I can get behind that in a lot of ways, but in typical style David set off my own thinking on the matter and I ended up at a different place. In the end I think it’s likely we are talking about the same things, but I happen to like my briefer formulation. For me it boils down to this:
The Mission of Librarians is to Empower.
OK, but what do I mean by this? Let me break it down for you.
- Individuals – Librarians help individuals gain new knowledge, answer questions, access expensive resources, use computer networks, and so many other things that help them to realize more of their personal potential.
- Organizations – Librarians make organizations more effective by providing the information services they need to use their human and physical resources to their fullest potential.
- Communities – Librarians create and manage community resources that make communities more powerful and resilient.
- Society – Librarians collect, manage, preserve, and provide access to the resources required for individuals to contribute to society as informed citizens regardless of their financial resources or social status within the community.
Librarians empower by (partial list):
- Increasing knowledge – This is perhaps what we are best known for — providing the books and articles and other resources that our users need to increase their knowledge.
- Providing access to tools – Libraries have frequently branched out to providing access to tools, whether it be a popular tool lending library or more recently in-house access to expensive 3D printers.
- Providing access to networks – Since shortly after the Internet came into the collective consciousness, libraries have been front-and-center in providing access to this network to those who couldn’t afford access to it at home. And we still are.
- Assisting in skill development – With the economic crash in recent years libraries have been the “go to” place to reskill and find a new job. This role will likely only increase in the future, and we’ve even seen a public library recently offer a way for high school dropouts to earn their diploma. Where there’s a gap in services to help people to get ahead, you often see librarians stepping in to fill the void.
- Add your method here – Society evolves, and librarians evolve with it. Although those of us on the front lines of adoption didn’t feel this way at the time, librarians actually flocked to the Internet much faster and in greater numbers than many professions did. Just look at Realtors® if you don’t believe me. So I have great confidence in the ability of librarians to adapt and to continue to offer services that our users find compelling.
Given all of the above you would think that society would reward librarians very well. But we all know that isn’t the case. The reason we are still here is that we do it out of love. We love that every day we get to get out of bed and make the lives of others richer and more fulfilling. We love that we are focused not on making more widgets or making them cheaper, but on helping individuals live more fulfilling lives and helping our communities and society at large to prosper. We love our jobs because there is much to love, and none of it has anything to do with money. After all,
The mission of librarians is to empower.