Librarians: Agile Role Models

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In the age of technology, librarians were expected to go the way of door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen: extinct. Instead, they survived, adapting skills and knowledge to transform the entire profession. But even as the entire profession evolved, the core principles of librarianship remain the same; customer satisfaction, updates, and collaboration. Sound familiar? It should. These are also the principles of the Agile Manifesto. The library community’s successful adaptation to the age of technology makes them perfect role models for becoming agile. Here are three ways that librarians embody what it means to be agile.

They constantly inspect and adapt.

Librarians are trained to do on-the-spot needs analysis. They have just a minute for the reference interview to determine what or a user on what kind of information or service they need. If someone says “I need a book on William Shakespeare,” the librarian inspects the situation and adapts their knowledge. How old is the patron? If he appears college-aged, he might be looking for scholarly literature but if she appears to be in elementary school, she might be looking for a biography.

Inspecting and adapting also allows librarians to grow their resources in accordance to their community’s needs. Which resources are being used most frequently? Should similar resources be ordered? Which resources aren’t being used? Is it time to weed them out? Are the subscription databases being used? As technology and the internet evolved, librarians also began to change the questions they asked. What skills is the community looking for? What trends are influencing decisions for the users and customers?

It's not just second-nature for librarians to conduct needs analyses and to inspect and adapt their methodologies. It's also essential and critical to their survival.

They became facilitators.

The traditional model for librarianship is centered around collections and knowledge. The librarian, and the library, was the resource people used to connect with knowledge. The internet, especially robust search engines like Google, made it possible for everyone to connect with knowledge without requiring specialized skills.

The newer model for librarianship is centered around content. Librarians and libraries have re-positioned themselves to connect users with content and other users. They have utilized their specific skills to facilitate conversations in a data-driven world.

As facilitators, librarians give the skills and tools for converting data into information and information into knowledge directly to users. Libraries have morphed into places for users to create environments for their knowledge.

They began to prioritize individuals and interactions.

Librarians don’t work exclusively in libraries anymore. More of them are working in institutions or on teams that have nothing to do with the traditional library environment. These embedded librarians look at librarianship and information science as a service. They act as researchers. As user advocates. As newsgatherers. As intelligence analysts. As project managers. As analysts.

At the National Institutes of Health, embedded librarians can be part of patient teams. They join doctors and researchers on their rounds visiting patients. They help researchers track drugs and patents. They find research summaries and policies, all of which may be used by the doctors and researchers to provide care and treatment in their clinical trials.

At my agency, the Defense Technical Information Center, librarians are part of Integrated Product Teams. They prepare user manuals and lead training seminars for our products and services. They engineer databases and systems as information architects. They find research summaries and provide technical support to users and customers.

Many people believe that becoming agile means inventing new processes and new methodologies. But this isn't true. As librarians and libraries prove, agile works more successfully when the existing processes, methodologies, and skills are maintained and upgraded, not discarded or reinvented.

Meganne Lemon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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