Alison Pope

July 2, 2015 10:6 am

# CILIP Conference 2015 Day 1 Morning Keynote

R. David Lankes An action plan for world domination through librarianship

We have to stop building barriers between different types of libraries and information professional, even though we recognise that they are all the same.

The obligation we have as professional librarians is to bridge ... ideas into our environments

  1. First conquer your own demons
  2. Control the narrative
  3. Get invited by being present
  4. Never neutral - add value

It's not nice to be a librarian ... it's AWESOME to be a librarian ... we do important things ... throughout history we have done powerful things for human kind ... librarians have that power

Demon 1. Competition

you are not competing with Amazon or Google. Stop it, stop it, stop it! They are not in the same business.

Google is in the advertising business not the information business. They trade in attention. When they try to get into out business they give up because it is too hard. They have helped solve the document delivery problem though.

Apple is in the Walled Garden business. Amazon is in the Walmart business.

Our competition are with other services and interests competing for the same resources.

Demon 2. Libraries

Give more credit to the people who build and run libraries not the library as a building or symbolic entity. We can be librarians by degree, title or spirit not our association with a building.

The definition of library doesn't work. Start by defining a library with reference to librarians not librarians with reference to libraries. Librarians make libraries. We should start with this definition of a library:

A mandated and mediated space (virtual and/or physical) owned by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation.

Demon 3. Collections

Our concept of a collection has changed so much as to be not recognisable yet we barely acknowledge that fact. Recognise the shift in collections and the barriers to service. Our collections are now porous, out of our control, selected by other people, multimedia and mostly licensed or rented rather than owned outright.

Demon 4. Books

It's about knowledge. At best books can spark knowledge but they are not knowledge and knowledge is not a thing. We are in the learning business. Just learning. Not learning with technology, just learning. We are educators.

Reminds me of James Atkinson's book and library futures session at City Mash as Lankes asks whether when moving to scrolls ancient libraries had a mobile technology committee or worried about access and user training.

Libraries are not about books they never have been. They are about collecting resources to help people learn and about informed democracy.

Control the Narrative

People respond to aspirations more than deficits. Crisis narrative is useful but fleeting and demoralising. We need to talk about not the impacts to libraries but the impacts to the communities they serve.

There is a narrative vacuum around the profession. Let's talk about the stories that make a difference. Radical librarians, community librarians, academic librarians, librarians with tattoos, special librarians, old librarians, young librarians etc. etc. people shouldn't be surprised that librarians are interesting people.

It needs to be more than a book+ narrative. When we say libraries are more than books, people just hear books (maybe increasingly cafes and wifi). Adapts LaRue's 7 messages for librarians

1. Librarians are here for you when times are tough

Talking about examples of librarians in natural disasters, city crises e.g Ferguson, Baltimore and how we are a key part of helping communities form and endure. We serve.

2. Librarians think ahead

3. Librarians are co-creators

4. Librarians make things better

5. Librarians build community

6. Librarians

7. Librarians

Get invited in by being present

Get out of the building and into the community. Figure out what you are going to do/say when you get there. Embed yourself in different research groups and different systems. Every hotspot is a library. Be there.

Add value

We are dominating the world because we add value. Our professional values are:

  • learning
  • openness
  • intellectual freedom and safety

The results are we look like our communities not each other. It's our turn to try and incorporate this. Don't be a librarian just because it's nice. Do it because you believe you can change the society for better not just document society.


This was a big, therapeutic and important pep talk to a room full of enthusiastic library and information professionals to kick off the conference. If you aren't filled with zeal and a sense of mission after this manifesto you are probably at or following the wrong conference. That isn't to say there aren't difficult questions and tasks to face or that to empower librarians makes these easy to solve but it provides the energy and clarity of vision needed to both not be shy about celebrating our success and to be forensic in our critical assessment of the profession in the upcoming sessions. It's not Librarians are Great. Full stop. It's librarians are great and powerful and professional and are super heroes in our communities. So let's go do it.

Web: R. David Lankes