Wednesday, July 30, 2008

IMLS Task Force

This week, I attended the first meeting of the Institute of Museum and Library Service's 21st Century Skill Task Force. This task force was appointed to help IMLS develop the strategic focus of their upcoming Report on Museums and Libraries and 21st Century Skills and a self-assessment tool that will allow cultural heritage tools to determine where they are on a continuum of institutional skills.

IMLS has asked us to look at three areas: What are the critical elements of 21st century skills (for our public, not our staffs) and how do these relate to libraries and museum? What are the competencies and aptitudes that museums and libraries need to deliver 21st century skills? And what are the key strategies that these institutions can undertake in promoting and integrating 21st century skills into services and programming? (To find out more about 21st century skills, and to see the document we are using as a guiding text, start here, then if you want to take a deep dive into the topic, go here.)

The Task Force consists of 18 people, including people with stronger museum or stronger library backgrounds. One of the first things we discovered as we introduced ourselves around the room is that the distinction between having a museum background and having a library background is a fuzzy one. Deborah Schwartz, the president of the Brooklyn Historical Society, includes a major research library as part of her museum. I used to run a public library with a gallery space.

That's not to say we sat around and sang "Kum-Bi-Yah," or anything like that. There were heated discussions about the alleged elitism of art museums. There were excellent exchanges about the language we use to describe what we do and how these words vary among types of institutions. Carlos Tortolero from the National Museum of Mexican Art and I had a prolonged debate on whether museums or libraries had done a better job in responding to changes in the information environment (he thought libraries, I thought museums---go figure).

One of the most interesting discussion was over the question of aspirations. If we are doing our jobs well, what do we aspire to happen to our members? And has this changed in the last few decades? I contended that there were no changes in aspirations, only in the tools we use to service those aspirations. But Nina K. Simon of Museum 2.0 (a new candidate for my list of Top 10 Cool People) pointed up one thing that really is new: the individual's desire to be seen as an individual and to have the services tailored to himself or herself. This simply wasn't possible before, and it really wasn't expected. But changes in technology mean we can make the experience---library or museum---individualized, and this truly is a new aspiration. Lively discussion followed on whether or not this was a good thing. Some contend it is the only way we can survive in the modern world; others see this as the end of the civil society that comes from shared experience. One lonely voice seemed to think that both points of view are right.

(By the way, Nina's blog post "Is Your Museum Website a Walled Garden?" is very instructive. In fact, if you change the word "museum" to "library" in that post, it asks the questions we should be asking ourselves, and gives some outstanding advice.)

We meet again in September, and I'm looking forward to continuing this exhilarating discussion. And I would look forward to hearing from you in the library world about how you see your library's role in furthering education and the development of 21st century skills in your community. Add your comments to the blog, or write to me directly.

1 comment:

Andy Havens said...

Good post, good thoughts, good direction.

I'd not only agree about the ability for users to experience things uniquely being a new expectation, but I'd add that users are more apt to want to create and mix and mash content. I don't just want to experience materials and libraries in museums my own way... I want to take what they offer and make it my own, adding (or subtracting) things that make the content more meaningful to me.