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Cory Stier: The soul of librarianship?

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My name is Cory Stier. I am the Deputy CEO at Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. According to my job description, my responsibilities are supervising I.T. and Technical Services staff, managing our building and infrastructure, contract management, and marketing. Sounds real exciting, I know.  ?  What I feel is my most important responsibility though, is to take care of our staff and make sure that they have everything they need to be successful in their jobs. My philosophy is that staff are the key factor in ensuring the success of any organization, especially libraries. This is my third Cycling for Libraries trip and I can’t wait to meet old friends and make new ones!

So the topic that has been top of mind for me lately is somewhat related to the theme that Rasmus sent out the other day on what is the soul of librarianship. I think that many of the things that libraries are doing to help the community and bring people into libraries is great (e.g. makerspaces, providing social workers to help the homeless, providing workshops on writing resumes and applying for jobs). However, I often wonder whether these types of services are core to what a library truly is, or at least what I see is the core of a library: lending materials for free to a community in order to improve the lives of citizens. If this is not the core of what libraries are, then what is the unique characteristic that sets libraries apart from all the other organizations and agencies in a community? If you take away that unique characteristic, are you still left with a library, or something else?

I wonder too if libraries are still relevant in the lives of the majority of our citizens? As the middle class continues to gravitate towards Netflix, Apple Music and Google Play, services like Kindle Unlimited and Oyster, and Google for doing research, are libraries still going to be needed in 10 – 20 years? If our citizens stop using libraries because they decide there are better alternatives available, where does that leave us as librarians? Should we fight to remain relevant in some way, transforming into something other than a library? Or do we accept the will of the people and accept that we have become irrelevant.

I personally hope that libraries will continue to be relevant for many years to come. I worry though that the skills I learned in library school as they relate to organizing, accessing, and using materials in libraries are becoming less and less important as libraries pursue more and more things such as providing workshops on resume writing or using Arduinos or
transforming into makerspaces. I didn’t go to library school to be a social worker, employment counsellor, or electronics instructor, not that these are bad things. It’s just not what I’m interested in doing. Is there still room in the profession for “old school librarians” like me?

Ok, that’s much more than an elevator pitch, but at least I’ve freed that space in my brain so that I can kill those brain cells with some good European beer or a bowl or 2 of wine. Trust me, I’m not as gloomy as this makes me out to be. 🙂

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