Characteristics Which Can Help Save Libraries in a Highly Competitive and Dynamic Environment

BY: David Badertscher*

I have been following with great interest recent discussion on listservs and in the literature regarding a perception that libraries are becoming less relevant in a technologically-oriented society that relies increasingly on “instant gratification”(achieved largely through online searching and related techniques).

Technology is wonderful, and I think should it should be embraced, but not at the expense of alternative tools and methods that produce better results and may be more cost effective. If they are to accomplish their mission and remain relevant over time to their parent organizations, libraries must always be prepared to use a variety or mixture of techniques and materials, both technical and non-technical, to achieve results that are accurate, timely, efficient, cost effective, and deemed by patrons and managers to be trustworthy. The alternative is to increase the risk of libraries being perceived as no longer capable of meeting growing expectations and thereby becoming possible candidates for eventual closure.

How can libraries hope to escape this dilemma and continue to thrive in the highly competitive and dynamic environment where we live and work?

The discussions mentioned earlier include many excellent observations and recommendations which I think should be adopted. I agree that law libraries (and perhaps all libraries) need ready access to the services of a public relations department with the capability of responding quickly and professionally to articles denigrating libraries**. Discussions regarding these matters should be extended outside the library to include a broader population served by libraries, and more should be done by way of educating people “who work with librarians as to the value added elements a well-trained library staff adds to”*** the utility of both the library and its parent organization.

These and other excellent recommendations and suggestions being discussed are both necessary and useful, but are not by themselves sufficient to address the overall dilemma mentioned above. They need to be presented within a broader context which includes both core competencies of librarians such as the ones currently being revised by the American Association of Law Libraries for law librarians and a separate list of characteristics essential for libraries and library systems to maintain their relevance and effectiveness over the long term. If properly constructed, such a list should go far in helping libraries and library systems to be perceived as being essential components of our society due to their leadership role in both identifying and responding to information needs in a thoroughly professional manner. While much work continues to be done regarding the competencies of librarians, it appears that insufficient attention is being devoted to the complementary but distinct effort in identifying those overall characteristics or attributes of libraries, library personnel, and library systems essential for their assuming and maintaining a leading role in our increasingly dynamic and competitive world. Although other work has probably already been done in this area, I am not aware of it.

The following is my effort to compile such a list based on my own observations and conversations with colleagues. Hopefully it will stimulate both thought and further action. With that in mind the list of characteristics can be used as a point of departure for further development. A second equally important objective is to convey to the reader reviewing the list a sense of the vital, irreplaceable role libraries and librarians can play in meeting the information requirements of an increasingly dynamic and competitive environment. Thirdly, I would hope to convey my basic optimism regarding the future of libraries and library systems, provided that measures such as those discussed above are implemented and maintained consistently over time.

Some of the characteristics listed below apply primarily to librarians as a group. Others also include additional components of libraries such as the physical space, records, etc. Characteristics listed are assumed to incorporate a willingness to take actions and assume appropriate risks associated with those actions in the areas concerned. While all of the characteristics are considered important (even essential) to the relevance of libraries and library systems over the long term, some will be perceived as being more significant than others in particular situations and circumstances. Therefore, since the focus of this article is long term, no attempt is made in the following list to rank characteristics in terms of relative importance or significance. In my view they all play vital roles in the long term relevance and ultimate success of libraries. In addition to the characteristics (upper case and bold type) the following list includes some definitions and other illustrative material. Since the illustrative material is not intended to be all inclusive I have added the notation “Other, as appropriate” at the end of each grouping to underscore that fact.

The List:

Ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; obtainable; approachability.
Accessibility of library directors, managers, department heads, and others as appropriate to decision makers and to meetings and other forums where policies and procedures related to libraries and library systems are being discussed and deliberated.
Accessibility of library collections in all formats, including digital, to library users.
Other, as appropriate
Skill, aptitude, and motivation in the identification and detailed examination of components of systems, procedures, documents, organizations, or other entities and to infer meaning and communicate conclusions based on such examination..
Studies Evaluations (including evaluations of library collections)
Compilations (including bibliographies, development and continuing maintenance of library catalogues, indices)
Financial evaluation and analysis (includes financial planning – budgets)
Analysis related to strategic planning Systems Analysis related to library applications and services Other, as appropriate.

The ability to transcend traditional ideas, techniques, rules, approaches
Develop new, improved approaches to resolving challenges
Exploration of new and emerging developments as to their possible application to library applications and services.
Other, as appropriate
Desire, and drive, to learn and understand Inquisitiveness Urge and motivation to become more aware of ways to adapt libraries and librarianship to competitive, dynamic environments Other, as appropriate
Ability to vicariously experience experiences, feelings, thoughts, attitudes of others Sharing Collaboration Outreach
Caring about and relating to other people Other, as appropriate
Willing to adapt and adjust Accepts and is reasonably comfortable with change Willing to yield when appropriate An important attribute in a rapidly changing library environment Other, as appropriate.

Ability to make things happen Provide direction Take initiative and assume risk Strategic planning Ability to ensure that quality of organization and service are maintained at a high level Ability to persuade and articulate at a high level Take lead in encouraging coordination, collaboration, and sharing as considered appropriate Take lead in introducing new technologies as appropriate Ability to say “no” when situation warrants Other, as appropriate
Ability to stay the course and be steadfast in working toward objectives of the library, especially in difficult, challenging situations Other, as appropriate
Includes all areas related to maintaining the integrirty of library records, including bibliographic records as well as financial and business records associated with the library Cataloging, indexing, issues related to authentication of digital records and materials over time Preservation of materials and records over time Maintain consistent and steady relationships with parent and other organizations as needed Maintain stable physical environment in library or library system Other, as appropriate

Ability to deal skillfully with new or difficult situations Ability to adapt quickly Skillful in finding ways of doing more with less as situation warrants Other, as appropriate
Comments are welcome.
_____________________________ *Although David Badertscher is the Principal Law Librarian of the New York State Supreme Court Criminal Term, First Judicial District, the opinions, conclusions, and observations expressed in the above article are entirely his own and should not in any way be attributed to that organization, the State of New York Unified Court System, or any other organization or group with which he has been associated, past or present. He also wishes to thank Theodore Pollack, Senior Law Librarian at the New York County Public Access Law Library for his assistance in editing the final version of this paper.

**E-mail from Mary Matuszak, Director of Library Services, New York County District Attorney’s Office, December 18, 2009.

***E-mail from Joni L. Cassidy, President and Technical Services Librarian, Cassidy Cataloguing Services Inc., December 17, 2009/


One response to “Characteristics Which Can Help Save Libraries in a Highly Competitive and Dynamic Environment”

  1. Jonathan C. Stock says:

    I strongly endorse and greatly value this excellent list of library, library personnel, and library system attributes that render our skills essential: perhaps even more essential now in times of rapid technological change. Along with these attributes, we need to conduct a process of public education aimed at dispelling a dangerous and far too prevalent fallacy–that we no longer need libraries because “everything is free on the internet.” This fallacy stems from at least two fundamental misunderstandings.

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