Thursday, April 2, 2009

Library Things (possibly including Library Thing)

So. Clearly the future of libraries are at stake (and we are the generation to decide and save them, yadayada. I know). Compare articles such as these:

Downturn Puts New Stresses On Libraries from the New York Times (although this says how cool we are)

Our libraries are at risk from the Guardian
This one included a reader commenting: "The internet has replaced libraries. What are they for?"
Ouch.

And, although older, the shocker of shockers:
Bangor librarians face internet threat from 2005 in the Guardian.

So.
Why DO we have libraries? What are we good for? What do we need to do to save ourselves? Do we need to save ourselves? Is there really a "Great Library Emergency," as the Guardian claims?

I think that, as an academic library, my workplace is safer than others. Despite the changes we're making, students still need resources that they can't get for free online. But we're still facing huge changes, and public libraries perhaps even more. When Google provides millions of out-of-copyright books and LibraryThing serves to help you choose the good ones, what's a librarian to do?

Here's the deal. As Geoffrey Bilder so pointedly told us at our Staff Conference recently (I love working somewhere big enough to have a full day conference for staff!), libraries need to brand themselves. This sounds scary. What it can mean, though, is that libraries need to make themselves the trusted go-to source for information -- or at least for guidance on where to get information. The internet is now too big for people to search properly without some training and experience.

But that's what everyone's doing, and it seems to be working fine, you say? Hmmmmm. There's a dirty rumour (probably true...) that a survey asked librarians some quick factual-type questions. A huge percentage got one wrong, all in the same way. Why? Because the wikipedia entry was wrong. Now, this doesn't speak particularly well for librarians, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and also assume this was a few years ago and they weren't all up on their IT (clearly, all librarians today have mad IT skills. Ha). The point is, if we clued up librarians are doing it sometimes, most people are doing it more. Even if we do make mistakes, we know how to look for things better, if simply out of sheer practice. After three months in the reading rooms, for instance, I learned pretty fast how to find things that most undergraduates came in crying over. And that's not just books or articles online. It includes blogs, book reviews, electronic resources from the 18th century, online copies of Shakespeare's folio, latest medical abstracts, and funding opportunities. According to the news, librarians at many libraries are helping with resumes and jobsearches too (plus it's FREE. Come on people. FREEEEEEE).

CILIP, the UK professional body for librarians, is bemoaning the trend towards the deprofessionalisation of librarians. I am not sure it's as bad as they think, but their point is that not just anyone can walk in and do a librarians job. It's not just a personal form of the internet. It's like the internet with a brain and a history and training that does the grunt work for you. OK, maybe that's not going far enough (cuz at this point, maybe Google is that already). It's like the internet can read your mind, in a non-scary kind of way. We know that Professor So-and-so never puts the right references on his reading lists and that the articles are really on a hard-to-find NGO website. We know that even though the database you're using comes up first on Google, it's really crap and you should use this one because you're more likely to get a job off it. It goes on. Seriously.

Anyway, that's a not very in-depth part of why this stuff is important. There are lots more reasons why, and things that demand dissertations and essays. But come one. We're pretty cool. We even talk and laugh and joke. Bet Google doesn't admire your new haircut for you.

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