Script of a talk I gave at the AWHILES conference, in June 2012.
Hello, and welcome to a tour of the library of the future! I’m going to be leading you through how the library – particularly the health library – might change over the next 10 years or so. We’ll frame this as a physical tour.
We’re going to start off in the foyer, the entrance to the library, where I’ll talk a bit about ‘library as place’ and the role of the librarian. Then we’ll move into the stacks, and imagine what might be on the shelves – or if there will even be any shelves! In the computer cluster I’ll talk a bit about provision of e-information – how will people be getting their information? And what kind of devices might they be reading it on? We’ll finish up in the back office, with a look at those traditional back office tasks, particularly around cataloguing and metadata creation. What will be going on in the library catalogue of the future?
Now, futuregazing is a very imprecise art, and I wouldn’t ask you to put money on any of these predictions! What I’m going to do is share my thoughts about possible future trends. But not just mine! Each section is going to end with a question, which is then going to be discussed by the vendor panel, so you’ll have the chance to hear their thoughts on these issues, too.
Ok then, let’s get started!
Q for panel: Will the ‘library as place’ remain key?
The first thing to ask about the library of the future is surely this: will it still exist? Will it still exist as a concept? A place? And if it does exist, will there be a librarian in it?
You can’t go far in the profession at the moment without encountering discussions about ‘the death of libraries’, the rise of disintermediation, and the deprofessionalisation of libraries and information provision.
The public library service, in particular, has been hit by closures, by reductions in opening hours and staffing levels, by councils handing over library provision to volunteers and community groups. There is a very real sense that the profession as a whole is under threat, that our funders don’t understand or value what we do.
Add to this the rise in automation and changes in technology which are changing how people interact with libraries and librarians, from at-your-desk access to ejournals down to self-service and RFID meaning that issue desk transactions are no longer mandatory.
Now, one of the things we all tell people about the profession is
‘it’s not all stamping books and shhhhing, you know!’ Those are the stereotypes of our functions, and the profession has been keen to highlight just how much more we do! But we need to remember the functions that those despised stereotypical activities fulfilled, the needs they met.
True, self-service does free up a librarian’s time, to do all the million and one other things that we need to do. But it’s at the cost of a face-to-face interaction with your user. Now, one of the things people say about advocacy is that it happens most at point of service: you convince you users of your worth, of your library’s worth, at that point of contact, when you do your job well. At that moment you know who your user is – you’re not facing an anonymous internet statistic, you’re facing a real live person, who you can interact with. You can just issue their books, and that’s fine, but you can also milk the transaction – start building a personal relationship by exchanging small talk, ask if they need help with anything else, solicit feedback. You can even see how they actually feel about being in the library – are they smiling? What’s their body language saying?
Now, I’m not saying that self-service, remote access to journals – I’m not saying they’re are wrong or backwards steps – just that we need to be aware that our point of contact with the user has changed, will be changing, and that we will need to change, too. Change how we interact with users, change how we identify and meet their needs. If our point of interaction has switched to a virtual interaction, if for some people the library *will be* the online library, then we need to ensure that it is advocating for us – that it is usable, accessible, friendly, that it adds value to the user experience. I’ll come back to this a bit in part 4. So the skills of a librarian need to move more to remote customer identification and service.
Now, the ‘shhhing’. To some people, this is the absolute bane of the profession. It can be seen as the stern librarian repressing their users, cruelly stamping out any expressions of joy or sparks of personality. But we know that’s not true – we’re not really that horrible, right? What the shhing is about is about creating a nice, working, library environment, for all your users – and surely that does strike at the heart of what we do?
Now, what counts as a good library environment is definitely a moveable goalpost! It needs to be based around user needs and expectations, and physical library provision has, in many places, changed drastically over the last 20, 10, 5 years. Libraries are no longer necessarily silent – they may have specific areas for silent or group study. It’s just as likely now for people to be encouraged to speak up in a library space as it is for them to be silenced.
Chairs are more comfortable, workspaces more flexible. Who wants a hard wooden carrel and a hard wooden chair when you can have an armchair, a plug socket, and free wifi?
So what does ‘library as place’ offer? And will that offer continue to be relevant to user needs in the future?
One of the things that has come across very strongly from the research by campaign group Voices for the Library is that public library users strongly value the library as place. They see it as a neutral, welcoming, non-threatening, non-judgemental space. At the University of Manchester, where I work, the library is running the new ‘learning commons’ building – it won’t contain any books, but the idea of a ‘learning space’ is seen to fit under the remit of the library – facilitating learning is what libraries and librarians do. When I visited the London Library recently, a private members library, they told me that they’ve seen a rise in student members over the past few years, students who aren’t there for the stock, for the books on the shelves, but for the famously silent reading room as a study area.
Reading your own AWHILES newsletter shows that there is still a large emphasis on library as place, with a number of services refurbishing their space, and quoted user feedback concentrating as much on the place, the physical surroundings, as they do on resources or staff.
Will this still be the case in 2020? Or will ‘library’ come to mean the digital library, the electronic resources available to users at their desk, on their mobile device?
Will ‘library’ mean ‘wifi hotspot’?
My predication? No. I think users value the library as space, and will continue to do so – to use and appreciate the surroundings and resources.
But what of the role of the librarian? I do believe that there will still be librarians in 2020! But will they be in the library? As we all know, the duties and responsibilities of a librarian go way beyond the physical space. Curation happens in virtual space as well as meat space. Literature searches don’t require stacks.
But it is important that users know where to find you, know what you can do – or they don’t become users! One way this is being addressed in some sectors and organisations is with embedded librarianship – where the information professional works within a team, as an integral part of that team, often in the same physical location, with a job title that may be totally library-unrelated.
Now, this might be nothing new! Information specialists have been doing this sort of thing for years.
But combine it with online access to research materials, and how far does it go? Could you imagine a librarian as a member of a surgical team? Will surgery of the future go ‘Scalpel please nurse. Suction please. Reference please – can I get a reference here?’, with a librarian in scrubs in the corner doing research on their ipad?
Now, obviously, that’s nonsense. Everyone knows ipads don’t work if you’re wearing latex gloves. But seriously, I think we will see a rise in information professionals whose role is outside the library. I think library as place will continue to exist, but with fewer professional staff. That doesn’t mean I see the staff vanishing, necessarily, just that I see them elsewhere.
I think we will see a rise in disintermediation in the physical space – more unstaffed libraries, or staffed by para-professional staff. That, of course, raise issues around skillsets – we’ll need to ensure that we have the skills to put the resources in place – whether those resources be people, videos, or written guides – to enable people to still feel that the library is a friendly, welcoming, usable space.
I think with budget cuts, with pressures to prove our worth, I think that we will be frankly too valuable to be just left in the library. While I think library as space will continue and be valued, I think it may be more in the ‘room full of books’ sense – that the real value moves with the librarians, wherever they’re based.
But that’s just my thoughts, and so my first question for the panel is: will ‘library as place’ remain key?
So, if we accept that the ‘library as place’ will still exist in 2020, what will be on the shelves? Will there be any shelves? Is the future of health-information purely e? And what kind of e-information? Open-access? Paid subscriptions? What kind of devices will it be accessible on?
There’s no denying that ebooks and ejournals are on the rise, and it’s hard to see that trend reversing. Researchers and practitioners are becoming used to instant access to full-text at their desktops.
When we did some research recently for Copac, a merged union library catalogue, one of the top ‘wishes’ that came from users was for the inclusion of full-text. I also work for the Archives Hub, which holds descriptions of archive collections held in repositories across the UK, and one of our most frequent queries is from people asking how to access the full text of a particular document – after all, they found it on the internet, so why can’t they see the full thing? This is one of the best ways to find out what users really want – when they don’t ask if something is possible, but assume it’s possible, and ask how to do it. That space – that area where this thing is so vital to them that they assume it already exists – that’s your key areas for development.
Academics moan that students are doing ‘convenience research’, and will only use sources that are available online, not only ignoring other potential sources for their research topics, but abandoning entire topics because the information they need isn’t at their fingertips. Now, it’s not just a roll-your-eyes-and-say-‘oh! Those undergrads!’-thing – I’ve done exactly the same thing myself while researching. The printed item may potentially be a better resource, but if I have to wait for an ILL to come in to find out, it’s likely I’ll go with what I can access immediately. And once you’ve got used to this convenience, this instant gratification, it’s hard to give it up.
There are, of course, issues around the stability and trustworthiness of e-resources. For instance, a story emerged last week about a publisher who supplied a version of ‘War and Peace’ for the Barnes & Noble ereader, the Nook. Readers started to notice something odd about the prose, such as sentences like ‘It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern’. Can you guess what happened? Yup, the publisher had done a find& replace for all instances of ‘kindle’ (the name of the amazon ereader), and replaced them with ‘Nook’.
Pretty easily identifiable, you might think. But what about the non-native English speaker, who doesn’t have the intrinsic knowledge of the language necessary to see what might have been replaced? Or to even realise that there has been a replacement? We all know that removal of language barriers is especially important in the health care sector, where a mistranslation could put someone’s life at risk – or, at least, result in a very embarrassing conversation… have you seen the
glossary of Yorkshire medical terms for international recruits that’s been making a bit of hit on the internet? http://regmedia.co.uk/2006/04/24/glossary_for_international_recruits.pdf
See what a small change it is from ‘manky’ to ‘mardy’, and suddenly someone is not infected, only whingeing…
Another point is that with War and Peace, we have other versions available to check – other freely available etexts, as well as printed versions. Someone wondering ‘what on earth did Tolstoy mean by ‘the fire Nookd’? can go and check their version against another version – what does that one say? They can even go back to the original Russian version, and perform their own translation of puzzling passages.
But can you do that with an ejournal article? Especially a born-digital one? What is there to compare it to? What if you think that a drug name has been corrected incorrectly by the spell-checker? What if numbers have been transposed? Where can you look to find out if this might be right? Access to the same paper through another provider may be costly, and might not throw any light on the situation. A pre-print might be available in an open-access repository, but pre-prints often haven’t been peer-reviewed or proofread – what if the pre-print is less trustworthy than the published article?
So you might be at the mercy (literally!) of unintentional errors. But what’s even more worrying is the possibility of deliberate, malicious change. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the scandal over the ‘fake’ medical journals published by Elsevier in the early 2000s, marketed as peer-reviewed, but paid for by drug companies. So we all know that just being a journal from a major publisher is no guarantee of repute or reliability. But what if the journal *is* trustworthy, and the paper as accepted was trustworthy, but malicious changes are introduced before publication or distribution?
Using checksums is one way to potentially combat this. Having papers in digitally signed pdfs another, but there are ways to alter the text of pdfs, with free or inexpensive tools. Especially with open access papers, which can be hosted or reproduced anywhere. What if a colleague sends you a pdf of a paper, says ‘you might be interested in this’?. When do you start questioning the paper? If it’s branded as coming from a reputable journal, comes from a trusted source, at what point do you start suspecting it?
I know that scientists are encouraged to question all the papers they read, to do systematic reviews: check for valid methods, check that the conclusions drawn are backed up by the statistics etc – but how many of them actually do that, for each paper? Especially if it’s from a trusted journal, especially if it’s by trusted authors.
This isn’t a new problem, and it doesn’t only exist in the e-information field (I’m sure someone, somewhere has a story about a typesetter being bribed to introduce changes), but ejournals and ebooks can potentially make it more pervasive. Although they do have the good side of being able to easily issue corrections for genuine errors – though how you make sure that everyone who read the original also reads the corrections is a whole other problem…
Of course, trustworthiness is emphatically not the only issue!
What about access problems? You’ll never see this on a printed book [slide14]. They don’t crash. When you open a printed book or journal with the expectation of finding a certain article, it’s there, and you can start reading straight away – unless, of course, someone has torn out the pages…
But who know what advances in reading technology will have been made by 2020? It’s less than five years since amazon released the first kindle, only 2 years since Apple released the first ipad. Companies are showcasing flexible ‘electronic paper’ left, right, and centre. I think that issues around access and usability of e- versus paper will be much closer to resolved by 2020 – so, while I don’t think the entirely paperless library is anywhere in the near future, I see far fewer physical shelves in the library, with far fewer physical books and journals. Though I do think things will still be published in hard formats – most likely as dual hard/e formats, which will give you a place to go to check for errors! And even if each library doesn’t have its own hard copy, I think consortia and initiatives such as LOCKSS and collaborative collection management will ensure that hard copies are still kept.
Cost. slides15] Librarians have for years been worried about the spiralling cost of journal subscriptions, exacerbated by separate charges for print and esubscriptions; massive bundle pricing, where the vital journals are ‘bundled’ in with what is quite frankly, filler journals; charges for access to backfiles; drm restrictions meaning that some articles are effectively ‘rent-only’.
This issue became prominent again earlier this year with the Faculty Advisory Council at Harvard advising that the current journal subscription structure was unsustainable (http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448), and advising faculty to move to publishing in Open Access, and making their publications available in OA repositories.
So, is Open Access the way forward? The medical and health fields are already very strongly represented in the OA journals field, with the major health-research funders mandating Open Access publication and deposit. Even non-OA journals are accepting articles to be made open-access, for a fee. And there’s the recent announcement of the eLife journal from the Wellcome Trust, an entirely OA, entirely online journal.
But still, not everyone’s on board – not just publishers, but also researchers, who are worried that publishing in OA journals will reduce their ‘impact factor’
Will this improve by 2020? Will any libraries dare ditch their subscriptions, and go open-access only? It’s a decision that’s even tougher, I think, for the health sector, where it could be argued – and I’m sure it has! – that cancelling journal subscriptions could be endangering patient care.
So what does all this mean for the librarian of the future?
I think the reliability issues mean it means that we’ll need to be more vigilant – both in identifying mistakes and abuses ourselves, and in training others how to recognise them. We need to find and teach others to recognise abuses such as this: http://www.rescancer.com/cervical-cancer/39106.html One of my twitter network, Elly O’Brien, spotted this site, and flagged it as dodgy using the traditional librarian skillset – she looked for an ‘about us’, looked at the URL, the contact email address (Hotmail!), at the fact that some of the papers are in fact open access – or available direct from the publisher for less than this site is charging. Along comes another info pro, Lisa Hutchins, whose background is in IT, and she uses those skills to do some more delving – she looked at the page source, to see how the site was built, looked for hidden stuff like links to other sites there for SEO but supressed from appearing; she looked up the domain to see who it was registered to, and how many other sites registered to them. It all adds up to a dodgy-looking site: which has been reported to the publishers of some of the papers, thanks to these two info pros.
I think this will also link with more embedding – we’re using our information professional skills, but we may require more subject-specific and specialist knowledge, to *enable* us to identify these issues. I think that’s going to continue to be a big part for librarians, checking the trustworthiness and authenticity of articles and research. More librarians doing things like NHS Evidence, Cochrane reviews , working for NICE – involved in ensuring good standards of research & dissemination.
The Open Access and subscription issues? I’m going to make a call on this one – I’m going to say that, coupled with my predicted continued rise in e-books and e-journals, that we will see some more libraries following Harvard, and going further – I think, by 2020, we will see the first major libraries with no, or very few journal subscriptions – who are spending that budget on OA publication fees, instead.
What this is going to require from librarians is, quite frankly, cojones. It’s going to take courage. It’s also going to take negotiating and advocacy skills. It’s going to take you – us – being able to convince our researchers, our users and stakeholders that yes, there might be a bit of personal inconvenience for now, but that this is a move that will, in the long run, benefit everyone. It will take librarians and information professionals and researchers and funders and publishers, working together to make this happen – but I think we can do it.
But that’s just my opinion! And so my second question for the panel is: is Open Access the way forward?
The computer cluster:
Q for panel: How will information be delivered in the future?
So, if e-information is where it’s going to be at, how will users access it? Smartphone use may be still on the rise, but who wants to read a pdf on your smartphone? Most of the time it’s just not feasible, especially when you get specialist or technical articles, with diagrams and tables.
Other devices might seem the way forward – ereaders and tablets, but it’s not necessarily so – Pew internet have recently released research showing that 85% of those who don’t own an ereader and 81% of those who don’t own a tablet have no plans to purchase one (http://pewinternet.org/Presentations/2012/Jun/SUNY-Libraries.aspx, slides 24 & 26).
As I mentioned briefly in the last section, I think what we need for einformation to really achieve saturation take-up is the advent of new technology – and while we know that new technology will come, it’s hard to imagine what it will actually be.
So we’re all very proud of our shiny new computer clusters, but what will they look like in 2020? Well, think back to 2004. That’s as far back as we’re looking forward. There would have been computer clusters in many libraries
What might they have looked like? Well, something a bit like this
Look familiar? Anyone still have a cluster near them with those lovely were-once-white keyboards and those massive CRT monitors? They’re still around! Even though many clusters now look like this
or even this
There’s also the issue of bring your own device! Or BYOD. You may have all seen, as I did, Sarah’s email to the lis-medical list last week asking if anyone was implementing a ‘BYOD’ policy, or doing any research on the use of mobile & tablet devices in elearning. I asked Sarah to share the responses with me, and … well… no news is good news, right? The lack of responses tells us something in itself – that this is not yet a priority for health libraries – and I don’t see that changing massively in the next 8 years. I think there will be more wireless provision, but I don’t think the stationary computer provision is going to go away anytime soon, especially with the concerns about firewalls and VPN and people leaving laptops full of confidential information on trains – though I do think that more people will start bringing their own devices – whether they’re encouraged to or not – and we’re going to need to learn how to do basic help & troubleshooting on those devices, as well as develop resources that work on them.
But whatever they look like, computer clusters all have the same principle, right? To allow access to online and electronic information.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re staring into a fuzzy 640×480 CRT monitor, or a state-of-the art touchscreen, once you get on the net, what you find, what you can access is all going to be equal, right?
No? I see a few shaking heads.
No. now, you don’t need me to tell you about access restrictions, blocked sites, web filters, subscription differences, trying to get blooming modern sites to work in internet explorer blooming 6. You don’t need me to tell you that, in an age where scholarly communication and discussion is often moving onto blogs and other social media sites, how those sites are being arbitrarily blocked by many institutions and employers. You don’t need me to tell you how the responses, the rebuffals, the adding to and furthering of – all these responses to published articles, which used to take place in the letters pages of journals, how these are now often taking place on blogs, in forums. How they’re no longer being ‘pushed’ to readers and researchers, but have to be found. And accessed.
You don’t need me to tell you how students and recent graduates are coming in to the library from universities which have implemented vertical search solutions, like summon, and don’t realise that the library catalogue they’re now searching is any different. How this can lead to them not only missing hugely valuable information, but not even realising that they’re missing that information. You don’t need me to tell you of the potential implications of that, not just for research projects, but for patient care.
What you want me to tell you is that it’s all going to get better. And I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.
And it all comes back to disintermediation. Once you’ve been disintermediated, once you’ve been cut out of someone’s workflow – or were never there in the first place! – it’s very difficult to get back in. Why? Well, if they’re not using you, you don’t know who they are and what you can do for them. They don’t know who you are, and what you can do for them. If they don’t know that there’s anything better out there, or that they’re not getting the best now – if they think they’re eating steak but in fact they’re eating spam – what can you do?
What this means for the librarian of the future is, well, it’s multifold. The first thing we will need to be able to do – and I know many people are already doing it, but the need is, I think, only going to increase – is to identify these different areas of scholarly communication:
the blogs, the infographics, the ‘snippets’ on figshare, the google+ discussions, the Q&As on stackexchange, the papers on scribd and shared in google drive and dropbox- and get them to our users. It’s a hybrid of resource discovery and curation – getting them to the users in a place and a format they can access.
Which will hopefully be the native place, and the native format – because another thing we will need to do – and before 2020! – is to push to get those filters taken away. Get those restrictions lifted. Down with websense! Burn the firewalls! Speak up for the value of free and open access to *all* forms of communication. Help to educate people to the fact that just because someone is looking at twitter, that doesn’t mean they’re timewasting.
And we are doing this, and we are getting there. By 2020? Again, I’m going to push for the maybe slightly controversial, and say that e-information provision through non-traditional channels will have become so pervasive, that the filters will have to come off, access will have to be opened up.
And my questions for the panel is: do you agree with me? How will information be delivered in the future?
But even if I am right, and access is opened up, that doesn’t solve the other problem – how to get that great information and discussion that we know is out there – how to get that to our disintermediated users – how to help them find the right information – tell the signal from the noise?
Q for panel: name one key feature of the health library catalogue of 2020.
The solution – one solution – one potential solution – might be right in front in of you. Not now, obviously. I’m not telling you to kidnap the person in front of you and take them back to your library to do all your literature searches for you!
No, I’m talking about something you probably all spend time with every day – your catalogue.
Ahh, cataloguing. Even more divisive then the great ‘knitting vs crochet’ wars, cataloguing splits information professionals into two camps: those who love it, and declare it vital for customer service and user satisfaction; and those who declare that it’s vital for customer service and user satisfaction, but marc fields make their eyes bleed, so can someone else please do it?
But everyone agrees that resource discovery starts with a good catalogue record, tailored to the needs of their users – don’t they?
After all, it’s not as if anyone purely relies on copy-cataloguing, is it? It’s not as if anyone’s getting rid of all their cataloguers, and just using the shelf ready records, is it?
Of course it is. And I see this as a trend that’s only going to increase.
I think we’re going to see a rise in collective cataloguing – not just union catalogues, but more instances of one person creating a catalogue record, and them sharing it. I hope that this will be done nationwide, possibly even worldwide (and for free!), but I also see a big role for specialist consortia, who can make sure that the right information for specialist users is added to the record. For instance, ‘medicine’ might be fine as a subject in a public library, but it’s not going to cut much mustard in a specialist health library, now is it?
I think we’ll see the continued rise of full-text search. Semantic search tools such as autonomy are being ‘trained’ to interpret based on context, and I think the next 8 years might give them long enough to get pretty good at it. I don’t think they’ll ever be as good as a human, no replacement for an expert abstractor or indexer, but what they’ll produce will probably be good enough, to at least give a starting point.
now, I would love to be able to say that by 2020 the semantic web will have taken off, and that all resources will be available as linked data, or have linked data metadata. I don’t think this will be the case. The movement towards linked data is definitely gaining momentum, and I think we will see more bibliographic linked data, but I think it will be a long time reaching saturation point, and won’t be effective for resource discovery for quite some time.
I think it’s likely that librarian roles will be more curation, rather than cataloguing – what resources to include in the ‘catalogue’? Which ones are most relevant to your users? And how do you let them know about them?
My prediction: by 2020, specialist book and journal cataloguers will either be shared between multiple institutions, work for cataloguing agencies, national libraries, or consortia, or will work with rare/special material only. Which is a bit of a blow for me, because I’m one of the ones who loves cataloguing! What individual librarians, or consortia, will be doing, I think, is capturing the grey information, the extra bits we talked back in section 3 – the blogs, the figures, the discussions – adding that extra information that you know your users will need, helping to point them to different resources. I’m not saying catalogue the internet! I’m thinking of linking in APIs , RSS feeds, metadata from various non-traditional bibliographic resources. And we’ll need to learn the skills to do this – not just the technical skills to fiddle with the innards of the catalogue, set up connections – but the negotiating and advocacy skills to get your IT department to allow you to do it!
So I think we’re going to see this going in two directions. I think in one way we’re going to have very comprehensive catalogues – I think that’s what users are going to demand – are already demanding!. Not just demand, I don’t think they’ll use anything else, and it we don’t provide them we’re sending our users right into the arms of google scholar
. so there’s a big opportunity for us there, to make our library catalogues comprehensive and user friendly – as I said right back at the very start, when we were in the physical library – if the catalogue is our point of interaction, we’d better darn well make it one that advocates for the value of the library.
But on the flipside of that, I think we’re going to see more librarians as information brokers. Yes, I’m going back again to the embedded notion, because I think integration is absolutely the way forward. And that doesn’t just mean integrating ourselves with our users, but integrating ourselves into the catalogue – making it truly a knowledge-base, including the ‘grey’ knowledge, the stuff that’s hidden in people’s heads. A tool for knowledge management, discovery, and curation. The time of lists of books is pretty much over – the catalogue of the future will need to be google and reference interview in one, not just comprehensive, but helpful. Recommender functions, integrated live chat, ‘fuzzy’ searching, search suggestions, related topics – we’re getting most of the elements we need, we just need to pull them all together.
So my question for the panel: name one key feature of the health library catalogue of 2020
So, we’ve had a look at 4 areas in which the library of the future will have changed and developed:
the physical library, which I think will become important more as a study space, and may be unstaffed; the shelves, which I think will become more e and less print; the computer cluster, which I think will have its access opened up; and the back office, where there will be less book-cataloguing and more API-wrangling.
What does this mean for the skills needed by a librarian?
Firstly, and I think most importantly, we’re going to need to find new ways to find out what our users need! bluntly, we’re going to have to do market research.
And I don’t just mean sending out questionnaires. We are going to need to adopt a mindset of constant research. Anything which might tell you a bit more about your users, about what they want, what they need – we’re going to have to train ourselves to latch on to that.
I think that we’ll need to do a lot more user analysis – not just of what they do and ask, but what they don’t do, and don’t ask. What are they searching for? Which searches are they abandoning? What are they downloading? What are they downloading the full-text of? What are they downloading the abstract of? I’m not saying invade the privacy of individual users, but the library impact data project led by Huddersfield has shown you can do an awful lot with anonymised usage stats. We’re going to need to learn to extract and work with this information.
When users are in the physical library, what are they doing there? What are they talking about when you meet them in the queue in the coffee shop? What new advances are there that you can anticipate their need for information on?
In many ways, this comes down to making yourself the resource.
You’re not saying to people ‘come use the library!’ or ‘see how many great database we have!’ but showing that you, as a person, have knowledge, skills, and resources they need.
If you can tell them how you’ve found a great video on the use of virtual reality goggles in diagnosis, before they ask
– well, they might never have thought to ask you! But they probably will next time. You can become their library, their resource.
This is going to take guts – to put ourselves forward like that. But I believe it will be worth it – to still be of the library, but not necessarily in the library; to become neither gatekeeper nor intermediary, but colleague.