Balancing technology in library service

November 2, 2009 at 9:31 am 6 comments

There is no shortage of continuing education opportunities for librarians. I think we naturally tend toward collaboration and harmony. Earlier this week, while many librarians were in Monterey, CA for Internet Librarian, I attended NJLA’s first Adult Services Forum. On the same day, David Lee King and Michael Porter launched their new video and multimedia collaboration project, Library 101. All three of these focus on something that I have been pondering a lot lately: how, why and in what format we provide services (to all our patrons). Those thoughts cannot be separated from my concern over the division that is created by the acceptance of technology in library service.

Let me start by saying that I suffer from a serious case of technolust. I really love having new technology at my fingertips! But I also have a fair amount of restraint and often will wait to purchase something until (almost) all the kinks are worked out. However, I know that, just from my family and friends, most people are not yet comfortable with a wide range of technologies. As a librarian, I feel that it is important for the library to be a safe and comfortable place to expose people to web 2.0 (and beyond) and new ways of doing things.

John Porcaro (JP) said during his presentation at the Adult Services Forum that he finds librarians are often ahead of the curve compared with other departments and professions when it comes to new technology. This is not the stereotype that people have of libraries and librarians. Just do a Google search on “libraries are dead”: 79,000 results! Not all these websites actually support that idea but some clearly do. The common thread is that unless we do something about the PERCEPTION of libraries, they will die. And isn’t that what we are ultimately fighting against? Both internal and external stereotypes of what libraries and librarians were, are and are going to be.

The Library 101 project looks at what we are doing and what we need to think about doing to stay relevant. And I’m all for that! With a fun music video (with lots of familiar faces in it!), thoughtful essays, and 101 resources and things to know (RTK), Library 101 gathers together all the stuff libraries have been doing and are currently trying to do. The Library 101 project also reminded me that I’m not the only one who thinks that being a librarian can be fun and wants to share that with the world.

But I worry about what I read and hear from some of our other colleagues. For instance, I’ve heard librarians complaining about the formats available in their libraries, forget about the wonder that is InterLibrary Loan (it might seem outdated, but get that item into the patron’s hands and they don’t care where you got it from!). I’ve also read blog posts and tweet that generally disregard traditional library service. For all of the the librarians pushing away from long-established services, there are just as many complaining about the move towards Web 2.0 in libraries.

Yes, it is important for libraries and librarians to be on social networks, Twitter, producing webcasts, providing text and im reference, etc. But I think it is equally important to remember why we are doing all of these things. We are providing a new medium for things we have always done. We can connect people to these new technologies, give them new skill sets, and ultimately, strengthen the connection to our libraries.

And we can hope that, in so doing, we change the public’s perception of libraries and librarians. But we all need to be working together and not undermining the traditional work we still do, that is still overwhelmingly appreciated by the people we serve. There can be a balance to using new technology to promote, support and enhance traditional, as well as new, programming and resources.

by Karen Klapperstuck


Entry filed under: Future of Libraries. Tags: .

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  • 1. Lisa Coats  |  November 2, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Thanks for this post, whoever you are . Let me take this opportunity to ‘publicly’ thank all the co-sponsors of the Adult Services Forum. At the end of the day, things were so hectic that as a member of the Reference Section I mistakenly forgot to thank everyone involved. So, a belated “Thank you” to the IT Section, the Administration & Management Section, the Reader’s Advisory Roundtable, NJLA’s Programming Committee, and the NJ State Library.

    • 2. Karen  |  November 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      Lisa, Thanks for commenting! It reminded me that I hadn’t signed my post! The forum was great!

  • […] librarian can be fun and wants to share that with the world….Read entire excellent post here: Posted in Thinking Long Term. Tags: CE, Public Libraries, Technology. Leave a Comment […]

  • 4. lemasney  |  November 2, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Karen, a great post. It’s so funny to me to think that people still believe that libraries are dying. It’s far more accurate to say that libraries are changing, adapting, surviving… beautifully. No one seems to know more about what’s going on in social networks, online databases, the hidden web, the shallow web, and mobile technologies. I’d say 90% of my contacts on Google Wave (the NBT!) are librarians. In my personal experience, librarians are amongst the most interested in training, forward and critical tech thinking, and searching the tech horizon. I was recently at a local museum and remarked to my wife that I wished that the museum took the same forward thinking approach to technology that my local libraries do. Great piece here — and thanks.

  • 5. Frontline Librarian  |  November 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Great comments! I think one of the most challenging things about managing libraries right now is the job of blending diverse library staff into a cohesive team. Some are more schooled in traditional library services, others are chomping at the library 2.0 bit. Both have skills we need and both need to be challenged to stretch outside of their comfort zone. Only with the best of the traditional and the best of the new, only as we ourselves bridge the digital divide will we be able to serve our diverse communities do the same.

  • 6. Cynthia  |  November 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Excellent post Karen! I agree 100% that librarians are early adopters of technology and that is terrific. Yet there are still many librarians who fear new technologies and claim it hurts customer service. In my workplace, several librarians have complained that covering a Meebo queue is too much when on desk. I say, you answer the phone, you can answer Meebo. I also say that with the phone, if you are not available, the patron doesn’t know until all the ringing stops, the message is done, etc. With Meebo, a quick I’ll be back at 12:30 lets the patron know availability right away–an improvement in customer service.

    Still I do believe that some of the dependence on technology is a problem. When the internet goes down, we have no catalog. This is where the old school librarians shine–they know Dewey, I do not. They know our collection. I know only parts of it. They know read alikes without Novellist. I am still working on mastering Novelist (please stop changing the interface…thanks!).

    I worry less about what people think about librarians than most librarians–I think that a bad public image is so much better than no public image. What I worry more about is the number of new services that provide information–generally for a fee–that we can provide for free. They have marketing budgets (think KGB), and we do not. In these difficult economic times, people need to be reminded of the services the library provides. Sadly, it is exactly at these times that we have no money to get the word out.

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