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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Research and the library's role (a response)

I recently read," Research Librarianship in Crisis: Mediate When, Where, and How?" by Bohyun Kim at the ACRL blog (

"I think that librarians will still be needed for research in the digital era.... Users will no longer need nor desire human mediation in basic and simple tasks such as locating and accessing information. Most of them already have no patience to sit through a bibliographic instruction class and/or to read through a subject guide.

But users may appreciate and even seek for mediation in more complicated tasks such as creating a relevant and manageable data set for their research. Users may welcome any tool that libraries offer that makes the process of research from the beginning to the final product easier and faster. They will want better user interfaces for library systems. They will appreciate better bridges that will connect them with non-library systems to make library resources more easily discoverable and retrievable. They will want libraries to be an invisible interface that removes any barrier between them and information. "

I've been pondering those passages for a while as they get to the heart of not only my experience as a user of a few different libraries (and as a future PhD candidate I expect my use of libraries will skyrocket) but also in terms of the disconnect that I see between the services offered by many libraries, user expectations, and even media coverage offering evidence and opinions that libraries are obsolete.

Many libraries are still doing business as usual; measuring statistics in the same way focusing on library as place(even the library's website is a destination ), library as storage, library as a collector of history, library as a house of knowledge brokers, library as a free book (and movie and music) rental service. I'm not saying we should get rid of those - they are parts of the CORE services to a library.

However, none of those really matter if you can't find what you need. It's the tools that we have to offer that make us valuable because they make our resources (and others) accessible. Unfortunately, our tools SUCK ... and it's no wonder - proprietary silo-ed data that doesn't play well with others. Websites, portals, and interfaces DESIGNED by librarians and programmers (who I love dearly, but are usually not DESIGNERS). Terminology that only we understand. Throw in the added complication of different target audiences with different expectations and needs, politics, funding and staff issues (how much training is happening for staff in libraries to keep them current with the technology the library supports?)

I don't have an easy answer; we're still in the people business, which is becoming dependent upon the information business. As the U.S. becomes more mobile (perhaps, we will eventually catch up to other countries), the demands for information are going to grow: information in all forms and formats. It's carrier and platform neutral; it's cloud based, integrated, portable, user friendly, and unique to each individual. There has to be a way to address that.

just my thoughts (as always)

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