Balancing technology in library service
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