I heard many things during my time at the conference – inspiring orations, snippets of excited conversation, exclamations of goodwill, serious murmurings around coffee tables. Many of the things I heard also related to the Wi-Fi connection: ”Is your Wi-Fi on? What happened to the Wi-Fi? Ooh, the Wi-Fi’s on again!”
These reactions got me excited. They were punctuated by delegates intermittently checking on their devices for re-entry into cyberspace. A palpable sense of need emanated from the glances, taps, swipes and (head) shakes that I observed. This is because librarians are coming online. Even in the middle of the richest part of Africa, where internet access isn’t ubiquitous, nor reliable under the best of circumstances. Libraries know that the internet is their new playground, and they’re embracing it.
Ned Potter’s presentation, “The Time for Libraries is Now“, underscores the change I’ve observed between the SAOUG conferences I’ve attended so far. Librarians are re-thinking their role in the information society – actively transforming themselves – but also the role of the library itself.
Mr. Potter doesn’t only encourage librarians to help their patrons use the internet, he also reminds patrons that librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of information. ”The gates are wide open.”, he says. “We will show you the path once you’re through them.”
Trust me on this: I grew up there.