Sometimes it is useful for organizations to pose "what if" situations and then think about how they might respond. Here are a few to get us started. I am not advocating any of them, but have heard most of them mentioned in one forum or another.
- the net generation absolutely refuses to utilize traditional library approaches to service and information delivery.
- digitization projects in major university libraries are so successful that most print resources are easily accessed online.
- standard online periodical indexes, statistical sources, fulltext reference tools, etc. become so user friendly that little to no assistance from an information professional is required.
- study spaces are determined to be too scattered and difficult to manage from a security and maintenance perspective and they are centralized in four geographic quandrants on campus with long hours of access, cafes, printing and pc centers, exercise and stress reduction rooms, counseling and tutoring services, meeting and conference spaces, etc.
- the borrowing, renewing, and recall/hold functions for the remaining print collections are totally self-service; staff intervention is only required at the major problem stages.
- selection, acquisition, and cataloging of most library resources, print and digital, are centralized within the UC sytem. Regional print resource centers support the need for lower demand research materials while local onsite collections focus on high use resources for individual campuses. UC subject librarian teams develop the systemwide collections in consultation with individual campus communities.
- the information industry focuses its efforts on the end-user and bypasses libraries. The packaging of information resources for specific academic client markets becomes typical and popular with students; they don't mind paying for content that meets their needs and is delivered to them in an organized manner and in digital format.
John Kupersmith set forth a nice list of ideas for new initiatives that made me think about my own reference work.
As someone who has just begun to do reference on the cooperative Ask A UC Librarian project I find myself comparing the experience with the good old face-to-face reference interview. The chat reference experience has some advantages, it seems to me. Relying on textual communications, no matter how casual (plenty of 'OK', 'LOL', and smiley faces) forces the patron to get to the point, and to really 'listen' during the reference interview. There are no "where's the bathroom" questions. And I've found that people will ask chat reference questions even when they are sitting in a library. It's surprising to them to find out they're chatting with a librarian at UC Berkeley, while they may be in Riverside or Irvine. But they'd rather chat or IM than walk over to that lonely person at the reference desk.
Today, while working with a student at Riverside, I realized it would have been so helpful if I could have been using VOIP while chatting with her. As quick as chat is, it's not as quick as a conversation. So, I wonder if we can ever imagine having Skype or similar software, plus built in microphones in our computers. I hope so.
I find the process of trying new technologies and modes of communication exciting, even though I'm often fumbling around and making mistakes. I encourage the "library family" (as Lisa Weber calls us :>)) to take the plunge into the unfamiliar.
In an earlier post, Brian Light asked "Who is the person or group, that we really need to cater to in the future?"
One such group consists of users who are outside the library: in campus offices or labs, in off-campus locations, or just walking around with mobile devices. This includes a large proportion of our users, often the same people who are helping us realize the vision of the electronic library when they use our licensed full-text article databases, e-journals, sound/image databases, etc. In business terms, such folks are prime customers of our most expensive resources.
When we call these people "remote users," it puts them immediately in the wrong frame. As Anne Lipow remarked, "rather than thinking of ourselves as remote, we should instead recognize that we are remote from our users. We need to change how we do business to link us back together - this time on their turf."
We already offer a number of services to users outside the library, but these are not unified organizationally or philosophically, and are implemented in various, sometimes offhand ways. What would "new directions" in this area look like?
In an online world of small pieces loosely joined, librarians are among the most well qualified and highly motivated joiners of those pieces. Library patrons, meanwhile, are in transition. Once mainly consumers of information, they are now, on the two-way web, becoming producers too. Can libraries function not only as centers of consumption, but also as centers of production?
Remixing the library, A talk given by Jon Udell at the Global Research Library summit, October 2007.
I've been a fan and reader of Jon Udell for a few years now. His LibraryLookup project -- a little bookmarklet that when run will scrape an ISBN off a page, from say Amazon, and perform a search in your local library catalog -- was revelatory in 2002 as one of the first cool examples of what one could do with browser based scripting and library services. The above quote comes from a recent speech given at the Global Research Library summit in Washington state where he talks about the benefits libraries gain when they have systems that are "open to lightweight, spontaneous, opportunistic integration." Countering the idea that a library's local activities will narrow as libraries become more global in scope, he offers an optimistic view that sees librarians as aggregators and organizers of combinations of locally and externally sourced information and as catalysts to patrons who are increasingly becoming active information producers on the web.
Well, maybe they aren't calling them new directions, but they sure are talking about the same issues. Lorcan Dempsey recently blogged about the presentations at the Sustaining the Digital Library Symposium. The powerpoints from the symposium are available online.
The speakers addressed many of the same issues we are raising. The keynote (pdf) by Rick Luce gives a good overview of the issues - and his "perfect is the enemy of the good" relates to my recent post on the spirit of experimentation. Peter Buneman's The New Curators (ppt) summarizes key issues related to Mary Ann's post on e-science. And Sheila Cannell's presentation on Reskilling the Library (ppt) gives us some ideas about where we might be headed. Watch especially for her graph showing "the relative importance of librarians' roles in 5 years time: the views of library directors, other library staff and researchers." It's a fascinating comparison.
The other speakers' presentations are equally good (and equally related to posts on this blog). I just wish that I could actually listen to the presentations!
But what do you think about these presentations? What do you agree with? Where do you disagree with the presenters?