Isn’t it great to be in the library… wherever that is?

President’s Program: Isn’t it great to be in the library… wherever that is?
Sunday June 29th, 2008, 4:00pm – 5:30pm

(I apologize in advance for the level of detail here. I wasn’t able to get online and post right away and so I’m working from my handwritten notes – which are difficult to read at times and a bit cryptic at others. So, while I think a few statements are worth providing, I can’t recall the exact context of them. Rather than trying to guess, I’m simply providing them as-is.)

Joseph Janes, from the University of Washington and columnist for American Libraries, kicked off this session with a presentation about the evolution of libraries and how we can define what they are, followed by a panel discussion by the It’s All Good blogging team.

Joseph Janes presentation:

The evolution of libraries isn’t necessarily tied to technology. Instead, it relates to societal and demographic changes, publishing changes, and political, legal, and cognitive issues – all of which create a dynamic environment that libraries react to. Before we can answer the question “What is a library?” we have to answer the question “What does it mean to be in the library?”

The idea of being in the library, or “crossing the threshold,” has always been bigger than the main library building itself to include library branches, bookmobiles, etc. When thinking of the library’s “digital threshold” we begin to include chatting with a librarian, accessing databases, downloading audiobooks, and more.

“Anywhere, anytime, anyway in which people interact with information organized, provided, supported by their own community via their library staff.”

A library is defined by five things:
The place
The stuff
The support
The interaction
The values

If you take away one of these things, it becomes something other than a library.

The library needs to be somewhere and everywhere – with both physical and virtual spaces. Library users have multiple presences and identities that are tied to environments with information needs. Because users tend to use the path of least resistance, we need to be where they are.

We have to be better online. Users need a lot of motivation to come to us online (we have lots of competitors) and the online environment makes it very easy for them to leave.

It’s All Good bloggers response:

Library collections are becoming ubiquitous.

People are creating their own content online. The recent issue of Wired magazine has an article on the volume of data that’s being created by people with video recorders, etc.

Rather than simply using the tools that people are using, ask them why they’re using them and then design services around those needs.

Librarians need to be enthusiastic and passionate to attract and keep users. (If I had to choose one single common theme to come out of all of the ALA sessions I attended, it would have to be that of building relationships.)

Branding should be added to Joe’s list of 5 things that define a library. According to the results of an IMLS project, students don’t always realize that the library is responsible for providing electronic materials (they often think it’s another department or the overall academic institution). Also, youth are taught to avoid strangers online and are hesitant to use anonymous online services. Libraries have to be transparent in their virtual reference services.

Think “Simple, but brilliant.”

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