New Librarianship MOOC: Partnerships in Creativity, Innovation, and Learning

The further we move into R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, the more obvious the overlap between librarianship and the entire field of training-teaching-learning becomes—which makes me wonder why I don’t see more interactions and sustainable collaborations between colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA)  and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and others involved in the professions those two associations represent.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_Logo“All of New Librarianship is about knowledge and training,” Lankes reminds us in his online lecture on the role facilitation plays in knowledge and training and throughout his book. “Everything we do is about helping people develop their own knowledge.”

But it is his follow-up comment in the lecture that particularly resonates for those of us who work both with library colleagues and with colleagues in other organizations where learning is facilitated: “I think a lot of instruction in libraries should be about things within the community and not about the library itself”—an idea I’ve supported consistently through a “Rethinking Library Instruction” course for ALA Editions.

In the same way that learning facilitated within libraries ultimately is at least as much about serving community members’ needs as much as it is about making library services and resources accessible, the learning facilitated in other organizations is at least as much about customers and clients served as it is about the learners who are employed by those organizations. If trainer-teacher-learners are reading, hearing about, and talking about anything these days, it is about how we are fostering a learner-centric approach to our efforts. That learner-centric approach can be most productive when it helps learners themselves make connections between what they are learning and how it helps them serve others. So as we bring that back into the context of librarians and other members of library staff who are offering learning opportunities that move far beyond a focus on bibliographic instruction and explicitly address libraries and their staff as partners within the communities they serve, we have yet another reminder that there is plenty of room for, and much to be gained by, greater collaboration between the trainer-teacher-learners in libraries (i.e., almost every member of library staff who interacts with those relying on libraries and librarians as trusted resources) and the trainer-teacher-learners who serve other organizations and constituents without ever realizing that partnerships with library staff can expand the successes of what all of us are attempting to facilitate.

And it goes beyond that, beyond the learning process: It is, Lankes suggests, “about bringing people to action”—a theme he explores extensively in the course and in The Atlas: It is about being outside of our organizations, being visible within the communities we serve, and being part of the conversations that shape the directions our communities take.

Our role as facilitators—librarians as facilitators, in the context under discussion by Lankes, and trainer-teacher-learners as facilitators in the broader context I’m pursuing here—is critically important. And this role provides another example of the common ground we share: Librarians, Lankes says, are constantly learning and “need to be constantly learning”—a statement that is equally true for anyone involved in helping others learn.

That necessity to continually engage in learning reveals another challenge that is, at the same time, an attraction for many of us: The requirement that we provide stimulating environments for learning and innovation while, at the same time, being willing to learn alongside those whose learning we are expected—and have offered—to facilitate. We don’t necessarily have to know about everything that is going to take place in a learning environment such as the makerspaces that are becoming increasingly prevalent in libraries, he suggests, but we do have to be willing to learn with the learners who are working within those spaces: “This idea of creating a safe place for experimentation, for innovation, is part of what librarians need to do,” he adds in a lecture on facilitation and environment, and the same applies to trainer-teacher-learners outside of physical and virtual library (and other learning) spaces.

“What we need to think about,” he continues, “is our physical spaces and our digital spaces: ‘How can we create inspiration? How can we create an environment where people instantly walk in and feel smarter, or feel part of something great, and know that they are part of something great, and not [be] intimidated?”

The ultimate payoff for libraries and librarians, he concludes, is that “Libraries are safe places, but they are a safe place to come up with dangerous ideas. They are a safe place to come up with revolutionary ideas. They are a safe place in which we can plot the future greatness of a community that may need to overthrow the norms of community.”

And that, for me, is as fine a description of what any great training-teaching-learning endeavor I’ve ever seen or helped facilitate can offer. And produce.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.

4 Responses to New Librarianship MOOC: Partnerships in Creativity, Innovation, and Learning

  1. Paul,
    You write; “…the more obvious the overlap between librarianship and the entire field of training-teaching-learning becomes—which makes me wonder why I don’t see more interactions and sustainable collaborations between colleagues…”

    The reason there is no collaborations between these organizations is because that premise is wrong. There is no actual overlap of roles or goals that you apparently perceive through the rhetoric of this MOOC. Many years ago I was a member of ASTD after I earned my PhD in Adult and Continuing Education, which is essentially what ASTD is really about – corporate training and training development. ASTD and corporate trainers view libraries and thus librarians as simply a resource for information. Librarians have not proven themselves to be anything more to training developers – yet.

    Corporate trainers are in business to improve their company and keep from being the first department cut when the budget gets trimmed. Private trainers are in business to make money for themselves by being THE expert in a given field of expertise. Nothing about their purpose or mentality meshes with librarians or librarianship.

    As for librarians being community activists, I have my own opinions about us taking on such a role.
    Book Review: R. David Lankes – The Atlas of New Librarianship
    Final Review: The Atlas of New Librarianship

  2. Steve:

    Deeply grateful that you decided to post your thoughts here. With the background you describe on your own blog (, you’re exactly the sort of person I’m attempting to describe: someone who is deeply steeped in education (through your doctorate in adult and continuing education, your vast experience in corporate training, your position in the library world through the position you hold as a library specialist with the at the Utah State Library, in Salt Lake City, and the obvious dedication you display to conversations about 21st-century libraries through that wonderful blog you maintain).

    We clearly have different views about whether there is or is not overlap between librarianship and the overall field of training-teaching-learning, and I don’t feel any need to try to change your mind on that topic. I would simply suggest that saying “Corporate trainers are in business to…keep from being the first department cut when the budget gets trimmed” focuses on the least dynamic aspect of our profession while ignoring the more far-reaching and results-oriented approach taken by the best of our colleagues, and that the handful of colleagues I know who work in libraries and who are also members of ASTD (the American Society of Training & Development) are examples of what is possible rather than what has to be through your assertion that “Nothing about their purpose or mentality meshes with librarians or librarianship.”

    Looking forward to reading more of your postings on your blog and participating in the discussion that R. David Lankes is facilitating this week in his New Librarianship MOOC by exposing learners to your critical postings about “The Atlas of New Librarianship.” It looks to be a wonderfully dynamic opportunity for all involved to consider at least a couple of different viewpoints on the topic.

    With warmest regards,

  3. Paul,
    I apologize if I came across jaded in my comments. I wasn’t intending to focus on the least dynamic aspect of corporate trainers’ efforts, just the reality. I did write “Corporate trainers are in business to improve their company….” and the additional part that I so poorly expressed is that in so doing they try to avoid the inevitable budget cuts that fall upon cost centers more often than profit centers of every business. It is gratifying to see that trainers are now recognizing the “learning” and “learner” aspect of the profession.

    Actually, I applaud those “handful of colleagues” who work in libraries and participate in ASTD. The organization can only benefit from their perspective. But, unless the librarian ASTD members are “teacher-librarians” I’m not sure what they have to offer. At the risk of sounding like an education snob, which if I was I’d be at a university somewhere, teaching and learning theory is not something covered in the MLIS curriculum, and my experience with most trainers in library organizations is that they could use a lot more education themselves in teaching and learning theory, as well as training development of which most ASTD members have an excellent grasp. Creating content simply to fill the allotted time is the worst possible approach to training – and learning.

    The New Librarianship rhetoric sounds exciting, but when linked with the radical ideas of people like Saul Alinsky, I think it becomes dangerous to the fundamentals of librarianship, and dangerous to individual librarians who try to emulate such behavior. If ASTD affiliated trainers want to become radical activists, they should feel free to do so. They are not public servants. Librarians are, paid with tax dollars. That puts them and their responsibility to the public in a totally different perspective.

    Thank you for your most eloquent response to my comments.

  4. You remind me of the R-Squared conference, nearly a year ago, where a group of us went out into the community and surveyed people on the street. One of the questions we asked was “what did the know that they would like to teach?” Most people did know something that they would be willing to teach and that likely others would be interested to learn! Based on the information gathered, that library had the opportunity to become a facilitator of community-led instruction! Imagine the power in that.

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