Monday, May 30, 2011

"Call It Anything"

I've accepted a job as director of libraries at a college that offers two and four year programs and enrolls some fifteen hundred students each year.  It's a forward thinking institution in a lovely residential setting, and the people I've met seem friendly, dedicated and not taking themselves too seriously, which is instructive for me. Why am I going there?  Why am I doing this?

I love service and I love meeting people and connecting them with other people and resources that will help them meet their goals.  I'm fascinated by literature, knowledge and internet.   I love libraries, even as the idea of what a library is and what it can become changes, whether or not it is called a library.

Demanding my attention from the start include the following:


How to make students feel welcome in the library.  A faculty member used the expression "library phobia" in a conversation we had.  Many students are the first in their family to attend college.  They may not have positive experiences with libraries or use one as their first resource (or at any time) to solve a problem.  (I may not have been comfortable using libraries until after several years of working in them plus graduate school.)  What do students want?  WIFI?  Places to congregate for group study, and then quiet study places when they need them?  I think of several transformational library settings shared with me by people I've met: a community college library that is now a community hub, featuring spaces for people to get together, work together, learning resources, technology resources, and cultural events; a university library that has successfully devoted its space to integrate technology more successfully within the library setting; and another university library that has devoted space to technologically-enhanced classrooms, quiet study spaces and collaborative work.  So what's possible and what's necessary for my new setting, questions that I can only answer with a better understanding of how work functions now.

Asking myself why I come to work and asking my colleagues what they like about their jobs, what they would change, what are their aspirations, what would success mean, listening more than I talk, being there, not necessarily having answers but having curiosity about this question and then taking steps to give staff members the resources to do their jobs and achieve their goals.  I'm fortunate to work with a lovely group of people, dedicated, professional, curious, friendly, couldn't say enough positive words about each one I've met.

What does the library own, subscribe to, provide access to and why?  What do we need that we do not have?  What could we get elsewhere or get by without?  What are the programs and the students we will support?  How much should we commit to eBooks and ejournals and databases? What about promoting unique collections in college departments, archival and historical materials, is there an opportunity for digitization, networking and sharing?  What about facilitating sharing of learning materials online for those who want to do so?

What are the best ways to approach faculty and other personnel?  What's worked, what's appropriate, what can I offer.  Current awareness tools and social bookmarking as ways to alleviate information overload?  Outreach to facilitate teaching and preparing library services to anticipate particular assignments?  One thing the faculty and staff I met with reinforced for me is, often when teaching library resources, students don't retain the knowledge of the tools unless there's an immediate use for it.  Perhaps using specific course assignment situations as learning opportunities to demonstrate useful library resources has potential.  On the other hand, students just may want the information quickly and be done with it.  Create learning modules that can be accessed online?  Instructional videos as have been used in other settings


Then there's the question of the online catalog.  What can that be, what should it be?  How can the catalog become more "social," integrated with other library, learning and online resources without sowing confusion?  What do library users want?  What features are available from vendors, or is a consortial catalog a possibility or even a solution? 


I'm asked what is the future of libraries and a response is "Libraries have many different futures."  The belief that all information that anyone could want is available online does not yet conform with present reality.  Darnton and others offer reasons for this, at the same time addressing why libraries need to consider providing patrons with ereaders and ebooks in a variety of settings.  I don't see libraries becoming obsolete but library personnel need to act.  I mean,  know the institutional context, know our customers, align our goals and objectives with theirs, seek out creative solutions that may not be associated with a "library."  This paper offers several examples tried in corporate settings that could be applied in a variety of library and information enterprises.  Maybe it will be called a library or something else.  I think of when Miles Davis's group was recorded at the Isle of Wight festival and Miles was asked the name of the tune.  "Call It Anything," was evidently his response.  So let's call it anything but let our focus be service freely given and the removal of information obstacles.


(I don't know, this may seem presumptuous, premature, pie in the sky, mushy, unspecific thinking; at any rate, these are some of my directions as I make this new beginning, drawing on experience and not knowing at the same time.) 

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