Posting to

Posting to

James Weinheimer Says:
October 5th, 2009 at 4:14 am

In my own experience, and in contradiction to much of what I have read, I find that users have terrible problems finding and relating to information they find, be it on the web, in a book or anywhere else. We tell them to be skeptical, to not believe everything online, but if it’s in the library, they are supposed to believe that it’s “all right” for some reason. I don’t know what they think about that; are they supposed to put more faith into a book about U.S. politics that was published by Harvard University Press in 1953, or in a website of a right-or left-wing think tank that just appeared today? This is actually a complicated skill.

I think almost any librarian will agree that, while it is easier to find “information” today, it has become far more complicated to find what I shall call “coherent knowledge.” I don’t know if it really is that there is more information out there in the aggregate, but it certainly is easier to look in more places, it’s also easier to access the resources when you find them, and so on.

But this is exactly the problem: based on a casual use of Google to find the weather tomorrow or to check out the NYTimes, many users seem to conclude that it’s easy to find what they need and become completely confused when it comes to approaching the task more seriously. While they thought they were expert searchers, they find they are almost helpless, which makes the task of librarians exceedingly difficult. Often, patrons end up blaming the tools instead of admitting their own shortcomings and do not want to acknowledge their need to develop some skills.

I think traditional librarian tasks of helping people find what they need is just as important as ever–perhaps more so because it appears that many levels of society are accessing more and more information than ever before.

But yes, we need to change how we do what we do as well.