Re: analog vs digital collections and cataloging

Posting to RadCat

On 10/06/2013 00:06, Julie Moore wrote:

But getting back to our core values of librarianship, what does a library without books, without a reference desk, and without technical services make? I can tell you that our most popular service point is Star Bucks! And perhaps that is the future of academic libraries … to basically become a student center.

It has been interesting to read how different libraries are coping with the changes. “Everybody’s a librarian here”, bringing Technical Services together with Public Services but reference librarians going elsewhere; all quite fascinating. But, what is a library without books (physical), reference desk or technical services? I gave a paper in Oslo where I said:
“… a question [that] I believe should be of burning importance to librarianship but it may strike some as rather strange: I believe that librarians have to figure out precisely what it is that they really do. What I am questioning is whether the job of librarians is really to select, acquire, receive, catalog, shelve, circulate, conserve, and provide reference help, and do it all efficiently and effectively, or do they actually do something quite different?
I suspect they do something else, but I don’t really know what that something else is and what’s more, I am not even sure how to begin to answer such a question.”

So, can you have a library without books, a reference desk, etc.? Of course and people have built them at home for personal reasons for a long time, and sometimes these were the best libraries in the area. If you lived in the area and were lucky enough to know the owner, the owner might let you use the books. Here’s the take on some of the newest (strange!) trends in such personal collections, from nothing less than the Wall Street Journal!

In another sense, I worked with a graduate student in architecture a few years ago, and he was trying to figure out what “the library of the future” would look like. He, and I, liked this idea: in ancient Rome, there were huge bath complexes, where people could bathe, get massages, work out, eat and drink, learn new skills, and so on, and in every bath complex, there was always a library. Here is a picture of the library in the Baths of Trajan

In other words, the library was located where the people were.

I can imagine that the “library of the future” would be located in areas where people congregate, such as occurred in ancient Rome. Instead of niches for scrolls as we see in the library of the Baths of Trajan, as we saw in the photo above, there would be a bunch of hookups for wifi, along with a few machines for those who didn’t have them, while the “library collection” would be immensely more massive than anything you could store locally or anything available before, since it would be based on what was digitized. When people had questions about information, the librarian (the only person working in such a library) would help people and when necessary, be able to immediately connect with colleagues around the world using a Skype-type of communication, to efficiently help provide people find reliable information that is of importance to them. This way, information would be provided to people locally but the librarian could still be a part of a much larger community than ever before. Where would these places be? They could be anywhere: individual classes could have a librarian, conferences, malls. Something like this could prove to be immensely popular at a sporting event or even a rock concert. There’s only one way to find out. Even presidential debates could use a librarian so that when somebody said a zinger, everybody would know immediately. Librarians could even make use of tools like “Watson” (the computer that won at Jeopardy). 

None of this is science fiction–the technology for all of it exists right now. The problems are primarily organizational and social. Plus, there is the main question: why would people go to the librarian when they can search Google … [et al.] themselves? My answer: they would go to librarians–*if* librarians could demonstrate that they could give them better information, faster and more reliably than through doing it themselves. So, librarians would have to (finally!) demonstrate their case. I think they could, especially if they were able to collaborate with colleagues using Skype, IM type messaging and they would be pretty sure of getting quick help.

The sky really is the limit! But as we see, the job of the librarian would not be: “to select, acquire, receive, catalog, shelve, circulate, conserve, and provide reference help, and do it all efficiently and effectively”. I think those days are disappearing–for better or worse.