Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How librarians created Empty Libraries

Whenever I travel I go to see the libraries at my destination points. I have visited libraries in the Virgin Islands, California, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa, Hawaii, Maryland, Illinois, New York and Washington DC.

Background:  (when libraries were full)
As a child I walked into our small town library (small town & small library!) with a pass from the elementary school to visit the library during school hours. For me I walked into Paradise! A Librarian came up to me and said she would tell me the secret to the library if I wanted to listen - Yes! Tell me the secret!! She introduced me to the card catalog - she taught me how to find subjects, tracings, series, titles, authors, and how to read all the information on the cards. She even took me to the stacks and showed me how the "call number" corresponded to the book on the shelves. She helped me find info for my school report and then she asked me what I liked to read and recommended some exciting fiction titles. In that just over a half hour visit she hooked a young girl on libraries. She provided library instruction, a reference interview, readers advisory, and signed me up for a student library card. She was a model of what an excellent librarian of the 50's & 60's should be. I don't remember her name but she changed my life forever that day.

That was the model for libraries for a very long time. A nice place for adults and children to quietly browse the stacks to find fiction and non-fiction titles to read.

LIBRARIANS and LIBRARIES have CLUNG to that model for way too long and their SLOW acceptance of modern technologies have created a disconnect with the public.

We are being REPLACED by TECHNOLOGY rather than EMBRACING technology to ENHANCE our services.

Some examples to make my point:
I went to the library the other day and the parking lot was full - I nearly didn't find a spot to park. I thought man, this is going to be a zoo to get in and checked out. In the library there were only a few people in the stacks - where were the people? They were in the meeting room for a "Driver Training" class! Yes the "Library as Place" IS important but....

At one library the stacks were empty but the computer banks were full - that's a GOOD thing -- that day the information customers needed was ONLINE and we had the computers ready for them to use -- the bad thing is that it took YEARS to provide WIFI capabilities to customers who wanted to bring their laptops, netbooks and iPads into the library to use.  Libraries are too slow to adapt to technologies that would benefit library usage.

(a sweeping generalization follows)

Librarians for the most part still do not know how to use the current technologies. Older librarians do not Tweet, use Facebook or even understand the gaming world. I have attended trainings for librarians to learn these and other technologies but small numbers attend and even smaller numbers complete them. The sad fact is that many librarians are still saying "what do these technologies have to do with librarianship?" they attend the classes learn how to create blogs, wikis, and websites - then they don't USE the technologies! Chat rooms for reference Great, wait a minute you mean I have to do it?  We HAVE a Reader's Advisory Library Blog?? - I didn't know that! 

How many of you have head library administrators that long for the card catalog days?  How many of you have library administrators that champion the wise use of technology to enhance library service?

Younger librarians and recent Library Science and Information Science graduates face an uphill battle to change the mindset of the entrenched, older librarians who cling to the old ways of doing things.

Reference librarians are content to show customers OLD information in books rather than go online to find current information on websites.  Catalogers want to dot "i's" and cross "t's" while cataloging is being outsourced because of the backlogs they create by insisting on perfection.  Selectors (bibliographers of old) don't understand the dynamics of information architecture and the VALUE of a well-cataloged item and insist that they simply need to provide new titles and customers will somehow automatically know how to find the titles in the online database.

How many library systems across America are positioning their libraries to meet the information needs of savvy technology users?  I challenge ALL library systems to commit to brainstorming possibilities - what technology is out there? How can we use it to benefit libraries?  What technology is being developed? How can we position ourselves early to use it?  How can I train and hire staff that know how to wisely use technology for the benefit of libraries and information seekers? 

Instead of closing the libraries for an All-Staff Training Day - how about closing the libraries for an All-Staff Possibilities Day - how can we harness the technology that is out there for the benefit of libraries, what is my part in the new process and how can the system train us to go forward with the proposals?  Then make sure the wise uses get implemented!

How many librarians are getting CEUs and updating their degrees and their knowledge of information technology, information architecture, and learning how to USE technology in libraries.  Don't just say "that's the job of the Internet librarian"  It is the responsibility of each and every librarian to know how to use technology, to help implement it, and to identify ways it can be used in the future.  

I had a brainstorm idea the other day:

What if individual titles in a collection were placed on Twitter to be reserved or checked out on Twitter?  The same with Facebook.  Save a few copies of the next best seller and make them available ONLY to the customers who use Twitter or Facebook.

Is it being done now?  (if so comment and make it known to the readers of this blog!!) Can it be done?  If it can't be done now what would it take to make it happen?  If you are a library science or Information Science student right now make it a research project - make it happen!

We need to dream big, explore the "what if we..."

Libraries are increasingly becoming empty.  We don't meet the information needs of our customers because we are too complacent.  If you don't want to bring libraries into the 21st century and provide relevant online services as well as services in the libraries themselves -- then retire.  You will be replaced by young, competent librarians who have been educated in the ways technology who know how to make libraries relevant to the populous.


  1. Technology is changing and this profession needs to get ahead of that curve as this writter states. What if doctors did not embrace laproscopic surgery? Technology will make libraries better not worse! Those of you still in the profession need to make waves and change the status quo!

  2. I love the idea of checking out books by Facebook or Twitter! It would work even better with e-books - then they could, literally, be checked out from the library without readers leaving their computers at all. That's one of few new ideas I've seen lately - most of what I see deals more with reference than selection or circulation. Nice post - I'll look forward to keeping up with this blog.


My Journey from Libary 1.0 thinking to Library 2.0 action!

This will be a new beginning as I explore with you the concepts of Library 2.0 and how it can and should impact the way resources are cataloged!

Cataloging is...
Access to information
The structure that makes things findable
The keyring that holds all the keys together
The right tool for finding information