humantouchYesterday, I sat in an all-staff meeting and listened to a very entertaining presentation by our Systems Administrator (IT) that described in detail all of the many complex steps, processes, and details that go into ensuring that all of us in the network simply get our email, which is anything but simple. It was informative, eye opening, and mind blowing. I have no idea how our very small IT team tackles the monumental task of keeping us all alive online, not only with regard to email, but with regard to our OPAC/ILS, and all of the other IT-related functions that are too numerous to name. They do an absolutely phenomenal job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There was one comment that left me pondering the future.  According to our Systems IT Administrator, “We are all part of the IT Department in one way or another no matter what our job description says.” He’s right. We all have to use technology and understand it well enough so that we don’t need assistance in order to complete basic updates and maintenance of our computers and mobile devices and so that we’re not a hindrance to technological advances that will improve services and the user experience. Libraries rely on technology, and we all have a responsibility to become technologically competent. The trend is moving from training to self-initiated learning, which is a good thing.

I have no doubt, personally, that libraries will remain relevant well into the future. My concern is whether librarians will remain relevant well into…next year. What I mean is this-

The traditional librarian is not an IT person, at least not most of them. I hope that library schools will emphasize educating librarians in coding and other technology- related skills because librarians need those skills now and will need them even more in the future.

However, while technology is important and certainly one of the core elements of a successful library, what about the human touch? Not only is Human Touch a song (and an album) by Bruce Springsteen, one of my favorite artists, it is also something that computers and other devices cannot replace.

Libraries are about people and communities. Yes, they are also about people in communities who want their technology. But I hope their higher purpose is about connecting people to each other, to their communities, to opportunities, and to the world. I hope we don’t become so dependent upon technology that we forget about building relationships and in-person conversation and the importance of face-to-face communication.

A screen can be a window to the world or it can be a barrier to emotional connection. Librarians can operate from a transactional or relational perspective. Transactional gets the job done quickly. Relational takes more time but still gets the job done and creates a connection, a bond, common ground on which to build future transactions.

I hope libraries don’t become technology centers manned by only IT staff. While it is important that libraries remain relevant and stay current so that users will want to use our resources, it is also important that librarians remain committed to establishing relationships that have nothing to do with databases or the cloud or ebooks. And not just relationships with users but relationships with each other.

A librarian should be a community resource in the same way that a computer is a technological resource. But while a screen can facilitate a transaction, a librarian can be a conduit for an emotional connection. And those connections last longer than any broadband connection to the internet. Because those connections have a face and a name and a human touch.

I’ve established some pretty great friendships online with people that I rarely see in person. When my kids are away from home, it’s great to be able to Skype and text and email and communicate via Facebook and Twitter.  But nothing beats giving them hugs and looking into their faces, and seeing them stand before me. I can touch the screen when we talk virtually, but it’s not the same. It will never be the same.

We are all part of the IT world. But technology should not act as an emotional barrier between us and the rest of the world.

You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch
–Bruce Sprinsteen