Speaking Out

At the end of September, four members of the Ontario Government Libraries Council (OGLC) presented a workshop at Showcase Ontario, the Ontario government’s enormous technology and information conference. The session was about how to use non-traditional media such as blogs and Twitter for current awareness, and included two practical case studies from the Office of the Fire Marshal and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Registrations for the session topped 400. Since then, various members of the panel have been asked to make presentations to other audiences, to contribute content to articles reporting on social media use in government, and one has become a video clip!

This experience illustrates a significant opportunity for librarians to take their experience as trainers and to become public speakers. Librarians are regularly called upon to provide training in how to use tools, but this presentation was different. Its key message was not a step-by-step instruction on how to use the tools being discussed (although some processes were demonstrated). Rather, the speakers emphasized the need for government organizations to be aware of RSS, Twitter, Facebook and like tools as sources of information and citizen engagement. This is a more strategic message than we may typically give, and a great example of librarians positioning themselves to become business advisors rather than “just” service providers.

On the other side of the coin, more library cutbacks are happening in federal government libraries. CISTI, the science library at the National Research Council, was subjected to a 70% cutback earlier this year. The International Development Information Centre (CIDA’s Library) announced that it is closing in March 2010, and the Health Canada libraries will be undergoing a significant staff cut, outsourcing its document delivery and technical services to CISTI. Traditional library services are in trouble – again.

As David Whelan pointed out in his guest column last month (thank you David), if librarians don’t figure out how they can meet the actual needs of their organizations (rather than the ones we have traditionally and recently less relevantly filled), we’re going to join those librarians who have been declared redundant. It looks like the IDIC is going to be redeploying its librarians into its Knowledge Management program. Was this at the suggestion of the librarians? If so, they should be commended for finding an opportunity and seizing it.

In the fall of 2008, Seth Godin presented a talk at Tools of Change, a conference on the future of publishing. He proposed that books are really souvenirs of ideas that people encounter in their daily living. If you need information quickly, he suggests, it’s less and less likely that you’ll go to a conventional print publication to get it. We’ve come to rely on the web to provide us with the quick answer. Once enough of those quick answers come together, someone may decide to publish an actual book, but it’s retrospective. A souvenir of the thinking or issues of that point in time – life has already moved past it. Librarians: Are we collecting souvenirs, or helping our organizations identify and learn from the data and information that they need to answer business needs right now? Are we speaking out on how our organizations can manage internally generated information, minimize risk by managing e-mail? Are we finding new ways to market our well-established skills?

We are well-placed to reinvent ourselves. All we need is courage.


  1. As someone who creates strategic messages for a living, it’s great to see someone use the term correctly, as you did. Just as librarians can be service providers or business advisors, messages can simply convey information or they can present information in a way that repositions someone in someone else’s mind. Kudos!