January 13, 2006

Library 2.0

If you're wondering what it's all about (and the whole L2 business hasn't made as much of a splash in the academic library world as in public libraries), Walt Crawford has a special issue of C&I to explain it all.

The core concept? To me it seems that the L2 advocates are saying the we should pay more attention to what our patrons really want from us, not just what we think they should want or what we've always given them in the past. The core assumption seems to me to be that our patrons needs and expectations are changing faster than we're adjusting to serve them. Is this the case? Probably yes, but at the same time the speed with which our patrons are changing (and expecting us to change) isn't uniform. Yes, even the millennials aren't uniformly permaconnected or addicted to googlization. Can we figure out a way to change faster while still serving a wide range of expectations? Probably. Is it easy? No. It's always dangerous to assume that all of our patrons want the same thing from us all the time.

Lately I've been thinking of a kind of taxonomy of our community. Working from the core assumption that the library has something valuable to offer to our students, I see our community broken down in the following way:

  1. People that know about and use our resources. This is obviously the group we tend to focus our energies on. We see and interact with them so when we are contemplating change, we can often fall into the trap of focussing too much of our energy on them.
  2. People that would use our resources but don't know about them. At academic libraries, this is a hugely important group. We know we can help them and we know that once they see what we have to offer they will be happy to take advantage of our resources. This group basically includes all first year students. The challenge? How to reach them, how to breakthrough the fog of other distractions and get the message to them. Outreach to this group is obviously a key component of most IL programs. Changing to engage these students is a difficult but very important challenge, one that I'm sure needs to embrace a lot of the technology that L2 advocates embrace, such as social software, but also other way to draw them into our physical space and touch them that way.
  3. People that know about our resources but don't use them. The Googlers. They know about the library, know what we have, but either can't be bothered or are dismissive of our resources. These people often turn up at the reference desk at the last minute, frustrated and with chip on their shoulders. Often these students are the bane of their prof's existences as well. Their preconceived notions about the library make it hard for us to convince them that we have something to offer. Usually easy to spot at the back of the room in IL sessions. Very gratifying to be able to bring one into the fold. A difficult group for us to come to grips with when we contemplate change, and in some ways the focus of L2 discussions. We have to find a way to convince them that we have something to offer.
  4. People that don't know about our resources and wouldn't use them even if they did. Arggh. The toughest group of all to reach. Again, many first year students fall into this catagory. We always hope that we can somehow reach every student at the institution at some point, but I think that there's a significant portion that we really do miss. I certainly know that there are significant numbers who almost make it through without coming to the library. Rarely does a term go by when I don't see a 4th year student coming to the desk without a library card, asking how to find a reserve book. I'm always tempted to say, "Almost made it through, didn't ya!" Changing, finding a way to reach everybody, finding a way to engage and enlighted them, finding a way to turn these #4s into #3s, is a difficult challenge, one that will certainly involve a lot of new strategies.

Hmmm. This post went on a lot longer than I thought it would. In any case, change is a constant. I think it's a lot less stressful to embrace it than to resist it, or a least to figure out what parts of the change process you can embrace without going crazy. I like to think my modest (and still not finished) My Job in 10 Years series is my way of figuring out what it'll be like working in L2 (or by then, L4 or L5).

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