Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Re: [NGC4LIB] A Day Made of Glass

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 16/08/2011 15:13, McDonald, Stephen wrote:
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So you believe that a corporate law librarian should try to fill whatever requests he gets, regardless of the stated purpose of the library and company policies regarding misuse of company services? In your previous message to which I originally responded, you stated, "If something is available at a click on the web for free (e.g. a scan, a database, a "something") does it mean that librarians have no responsibility to bring their patrons' attention to it?" In some cases, in some libraries, yes, that is absolutely correct--the librarians have no responsibility to bring their patrons' attention to it. Not all libraries are the same. I understand what you are trying to get at, but you are overstating the case by expanding it to all librarians and all libraries. You are weakening your argument. If you limit it to public and academic libraries, I will agree. I believe that Todd, in the message you originally responded to, was pointing out the exceptions.
</snip>
I understand there are all kinds of libraries--I have worked in several different kinds myself. I also am aware that what I am discussing is a highly contentious issue, but this is not because I have simply decided to cause some friction--it is because the times we are living through are evolving at an alarming rate. I am trying to point out that we are experiencing a time of *change*--deep changes in the way people live their lives in practically *everything* they do and librarianship must adapt to this coming environment if it is to have a hope to survive. The Day Made of Glass video demonstrates how "information" will be used in a seamless way throughout our day. People won't even be aware of it. So, while I realize that Corning's purpose in making that video was only to be an advertisement to try to get people to buy whatever they produce, I consider the video to be a vivid illustration of how people will interact with information in new and unique ways. Whether it will be with glass from Corning or plastic from Ronco is beside the point.

I think that in such a world, a traditional library with its traditional searching and traditional services will be perceived as increasingly strange and obsolete. Libraries have been experiencing it for quite a while already with decreasing reference questions and other areas as well. Why are reference questions going down? Well, one thing I am sure of: it is definitely *not* that people know how to search the library catalog and don't need help with it! People are going elsewhere.

Many corporate-type libraries and specialized libraries are shutting down--in fact, I may become a consultant to help do just that for a specialized library. Incidentally, I just found this article: "'I Hate Reading' Facebook Page Earns 438,700+ Likes" http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/i-hate-reading-facebook-page-earns-437800-likes_b36149. Lots of people will really like Corning's vision of the future. We may well ask that in such a world as portrayed in the video, why would people *not* consider a traditional library to be strange and obsolete?

I am not trying to get people angry or insult anyone, but to try to get people to ask some serious questions because Corning may be right: it may not be all that long for a variant of their video to become reality. How would libraries--and their catalogs--fit in? Why would they need our "stuff"? I think that is a very worthwhile and apt question for this list.

The more libraries push people away to work things out on their own, the more danger there will be that they won't come back--this is normal experience in any business environment. In libraries, people may perhaps return to occasionally borrow a physical copy of some book that they prefer to hold in their hands for a few weeks, or to get a copy of something that the library will pay for--but this will be using only the clerk functions of a library and not using the library's deeper, more vital services. Therefore, if libraries are to survive beyond their clerk/inventory-type functions, they must push the envelope and demonstrate very, very clearly how they *can be* extremely important in people's work, in people's careers, and in people's lives.

For just one example, it was asked: "How is a general discussion of reference philosophy helping move forward to the catalog we all dream of?" My answer: in every, single way! Libraries should provide something that our patrons need and want, and thus, catalogs, reference, selection all blend together to form a whole. These tasks are separate *only* in the minds of the specialized librarians, primarily for bureaucratic reasons that reflect internal bureaucratic structures. This is not the view in the minds of our public, where it all blends together and becomes "the library". I believe that so long as we cling to the idea of separate library tasks with separate responsibilities, where the twain very seldom meets, we are limiting our own possibilities for what we--as librarians--can provide our users, and thereby, reduce our own ability to adapt to the new environment.

Am I weakening my argument by highlighting these issues? Perhaps I am and perhaps not, but I think librarians will have to confront such issues head on, and hopefully, well before the "Day Made of Glass" becomes a reality.

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