Posts Tagged future of librarianship
* [sic], per Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books
I just read an editorial from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Brian T. Sullivan, an instructional librarian at Alfred University, declaring the death of the academic library. He briefly addresses one of my reactions near the end, briefly stating:
At the same time, the death of the academic library is being hailed by many as progress and the logical next step in the evolution of information.
I wish he had explored that idea a little further, because I am not convinced by his enumerated arguments. Admittedly, my skepticism was heightened by the very first point on digital books making book collections obsolete. Never mind that not every book yet digitized, nor will they all ever be, nor that the library would have to expensively digitally replicate its physical collection. It also smacks of the old and pervasive attitude that a library = books, and the quality of a library can be determined by how many volumes are sitting on the shelf. As if a library digitizing collections means it no longer has a collection at all. Amusingly, at the end he chastises librarians for committing professional suicide by clinging to long to the mantra “There will always be books and libraries” and other outmoded notions.
He further claims that “[i]nformation literacy was fully integrated into the curriculum,” “[l]ibrary instruction was no longer necessary,” and “[r]eference services disappeared.” I think he’s grossly overestimating the ability (and inclination) of the typical student (or faculty member) to fully utilize a database or even a Google search. My group in IST 605 did an hour-long presentation focused on the information literacy of incoming freshmen at colleges. Spoiler alert: no, kids these days don’t know everything about successfully locating information. [The very existence of Let me Google that for you is a nice demonstration of that lack.] An early assignment for that same class also had us filling in a chart for different databases showing their different vocabularies and boolean markups and so forth. No, databases are still not user-friendly!
He also is critical of the practice of having untrained persons field basic questions instead of librarians. This practice was being implemented at the SUNY Upstate Medical University Health Science Library and was a topic in my project plan for them. [See VSD Project Plan.] They wanted to be able to better triage questions (and have triage happen on their end rather than have users have to figure it out for themselves), which included getting student workers answering easy questions (possibly developing/utilizing an FAQ-type wiki to supplement). Not to belittle the task of librarians, but to free them up to work on their other projects instead of needing to personally field easy ready-reference questions or inquiries about library hours and what-have-you.
Actually, all his points are adaptations libraries have made to accommodate new information technologies and information-seeking behaviors. The “traditional” academic library may be dead, and, as I quoted above, these little “deaths” mark a change to, as I see it, staying relevant, not dying. Perhaps someday the library of the future will be nothing more than set of websites, a means of accessing fully digital collections with the ability to chat with staff exclusively through computer.
Either way, the full impact of this transition is a long time off. Not all books are digitized. Digital book distribution has been established conclusively. Librarians are information-finders, not mere book slingers. Not all universities have the budget to essentially redo their library structure. I do not know anything about Brian Sullivan or his university’s library. I do know that for the past four semesters, I have not been taught his–I believe rather limited– worldview of academic librarianship.
Sigh. I remember in IST 511 some of the younger visiting librarians (we had representatives of various types of libraries come to class to give us an insider perspective on career paths) warning us that they were told this same thing and it proved untrue.
Actually, I think one of the older visitors mentioned it as well…
via Closed Stacks
I just arrived back home in Syracuse after driving down to Texas and back to visit my parents. As my boyfriend and I were slowly progressing through Virginia, we were keeping an eye out on those highway signs that tell you what gas stations, lodging, and restaurants are near the next exit, hoping for a Chick-Fil-A, southern-born fast food home to a tasty fried chicken sandwich (and non-existent in New York). After many, many miles of still not seeing one and fearing that the franchises has run out in south Virginia, I started to ponder how we could figure out where the next one would be.
If only one of us had a smart phone, I started, but even the hypothetical data plan price rates made me move on. Of course we had our laptops with us, but they’re no good if there’s no wifi around. The idea struck me that if only we knew how to get to a library, we’d be all set. It then occurred to me that I couldn’t think of many libraries located near an interstate, though of course if they were there, I wouldn’t know, would I? The OCPL Beauchamp branch is within a mile of I-81 through Syracuse; not that you’d know just passing through. Visitors’ centers located near the borders of states get signage, of course, but they aren’t around the mid-state areas. If only those library road signs could be expanded to the exit notifications…!
Or to get very ambitious, just think of an interstate library system. You finish your audio/book early on a long car ride and need diversion? Pull off and check one out. Need to know where the next XYZ is, or what’s neat in the area, or where the nearest ATM for your bank is, or confirm some reservation? Library! Librarians or the public computers, either one. Return it to the next one 100 miles up the road or something.
Of course, the logistics seem like a nightmare. Books get easily passed around a county, but entire states? Across state lines? Probably wouldn’t work out. But still…
I came across this little update through AustenBlog of all places: while you are in a Barnes & Noble store, you can have free access to eBooks for an hour at a time.
A lot of the discussion around eBook readers in relation to librarianship and traditional book reading has involved the ability (or inability) to annotate and share, and the place of eBooks in libraries. In that light, this is an interestingly library-esque addition to the Nook capabilities that nonetheless falls short.
For one thing, I’d love to know who decided the 1 hour cut-off…it seems rather arbitrary, unless, perhaps, there’s research that shows fast readers can finish a novel in 2 hours and so a more limited amount of time was in order.
I also wonder what the distribution of books is between B&N stores and their eBook selection. Namely, I’m wondering what the point of this access is if you can only take advantage of it while sitting in the midst of shelves and shelves of books, any one of which a customer can curl up with in one of the armchairs for as long as it takes to finish reading it. This seems like a step in the right direction but still not enough. I don’t expect corporate bookstores to take on the public library function, but even just setting up unlimited access only in a B&N store would better parallel the access to physical books.