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Another take on a familiar theme

August 12, 2011

I recently read through an article by Aaron Schmidt, The User Experience: Revamping Reference out of Library Journal’s May 1, 2011 issue.  It was a fantastic article and I think Mr. Schmidt made some really great points.

His article challenges our profession to really provide the type of approachability we keep saying is important.  It reminded me of a discussion I had while I was obtaining my MLS about how most professionals spend a considerable amount of time interviewing their customer but librarians rarely have this luxury.  The classic example is of the rushed patron coming to the reference desk demanding an answer to a ready reference question we have little time to figure out.  I remember at the time sympathizing with the librarian.  “Oh the poor professional that isn’t allowed the ability to adequately service the patron“, and to a certain degree I suppose I still feel that way.

But there is another side to that, as Mr. Schmidt points out.  Even though our own practices encourage customer service training and approachability we still seem unapproachable, burying ourselves behind tall desks, “essentially ignoring what’s going on…”

I’m going to play on that statement a bit and say that we have ignored what’s been going on.  Case in point; the difficulty we have had in defining ourselves in the new digital world.  How can we as a profession create a new image if we don’t see how we fit within another system?  Why are we so afraid to move in a different direction?  What would be wrong with a library not buying desktops and instead outfitting every team member with a tablet?  What would be wrong with walking around the library and actually seeking out our customer (patron, client, whatever) to see if they need help?  And I’m not being sarcastic here, I’m really looking for an answer, what’s the down side to doing that?  Guys, we are suppose to be showing people the best information let’s work with the technology, not against it!

I could go on and on with the questions but let me stop here and pose a challenge to you.  If you are a librarian, please share a specific example of how you have helped show the changing image of our field.  Or to think of it another way, what have you done that goes against the stereotype of the shushing old lady?

If you aren’t a librarian share what you think the new library/librarian is or what the old library/librarian was.  Do you have a librarian friend that has changed your perceptions?

*As I was writing this I was directed to a post on Seth’s blog about the library’s inability to do this and the role that plays for our societies.  You must read it – it’s awesome.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2011 3:34 pm

    I think the *new* librarian has to be a more chameleon-esque information specialist. I think that in order to stay relevant they will need to be adept at both traditional methods of literature and reference (Dewey decimal, microfiche, archives, etc) and new media formats (Google, social networking, etc).

    I would say that my perception has, in fact, been changed by a librarian in that I am gaining a larger understanding of the demands being put on this profession now.

  2. June 28, 2011 1:05 pm

    Thanks for the comments Drew and your point is very valid. What’s ironic is that within the profession those discussions are already happening. The disconnect seems to be how, or even if, librarians are sharing that with the public. How does an entire profession change the public’s perception; especially a profession that has been around for such a long time? For thousands of years “librarians” have been gatekeepers of knowledge, now all of a sudden the gatekeeper isn’t needed or wanted.

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