During the first week of the semester, I wrote about some of my assumptions about library science coming into WSU’s MLIS program. (You can read that whole post here.) Now that the end of my first semester is in sight, I am revisiting those assumptions in light of what I’ve learned so far. While none of my were completely wrong, some of them have been adjusted or nuanced a bit.
Assumption 1: The modes and methods of librarians have recently been changing drastically and will likely continue to do so, but the underlying function of the librarian has remained fairly constant, and will likely continue to do so.
The invention of the Internet has clearly changed how librarians operate every day. Print indexes of journal articles have been mostly superseded by electronic journals indexed in databases and searchable in many more ways that was possible with print indexes. Google’s ready availability and ease of use has resulted in fewer ready reference questions being asked at the reference desk, and a higher percentage of “stumper questions.” Social networking using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Pinterest has become an expectation for librarians. (For a full discussion on how libraries are using social networking, check out the excellent blog written by a group of my classmates for one of our projects.) And job titles have changed to reflect all this, highlighted in the title of this year’s Placements and Salaries Survey: “The Emerging Databrarian.” Emerging technologies and digital content management are growing fields of expertise. As technology continues to develop, librarians will continue to adjust their methods to make use of new capabilities to improve the way they do their jobs.
However, that job will remain relatively unchanged at its core. Indexing and other forms of bibliographic control have moved online, but are still crucial to providing access to information. The success of Google Books, although not done by libraries, indicates just how important indexes are in the chaotic information universe that is the Internet. There is an unbelievable amount of information out there online, but without any kind of organization it is unfindable and not helpful to anyone. Librarians’ knowledge of cataloging, information organization, and metadata has only become more important. In addition, the basic values of librarianship, such as intellectual freedom, information literacy, and free and open access to information, remain highly relevant.
Assumption 2: A good librarian doesn’t only do research for a patron, but also tries to guide the patron through the research process in a way that will teach the patron how to more effectively use library resources on his or her own another time.
This is basically teaching information literacy, which is indeed a priority for librarians. The Association of College and Research Libraries branch of the American Library Association has an entire committee devoted to information literacy, and has collected a wide variety of resources for promoting, teaching, and advocating for information literacy. However, the extent to which it is true actually varies by type of institution. Teaching patrons how to use the library is the dominant focus in academic libraries and academic librarians avoid giving students the answers to their questions, focusing on helping them find those answers themselves. Public librarians, on the other hand, focus on providing answers while also trying to help patrons learn something about the library along the way. This was a common theme in the class discussion we had regarding the library visits we made, as well as during class discussions regarding an assignment to pose questions via virtual reference services to multiple libraries in another class I’m taking this semester. As important as information literacy is, sometimes the frazzled mom with 3 minutes left on the parking meter really just needs an answer, not a lesson in how to use the catalog or formulate a better internet search. Recognizing teachable moments is important, as well as recognizing when it’s just not the time.
Assumption 3: The library will always have print books.
While I still believe this, I have to mention that when I said in my initial post I said that “I think that completely digital libraries are about as likely to occur as museums with only digital images of the artifacts that used to be physically on display,” I was rather mistaken. Actually, completely digital libraries already exist in small numbers. The Digital Public Library of America is one example. However, I agree with Neil Gaiman’s assessment that despite the growing popularity of e-books, print books will not go extinct because they offer things e-books can’t. As he says:
Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.
More content will be “born-digital” continuing into the future, and more material will be digitized over the years, and this offers significant benefits of access, especially for archival material, but there are still bridges to cross before digital content truly comes into its own (particularly digital rights management concerns and developing coherent policies to govern e-books use that can make both libraries and publishers/authors happy), and print will remain alongside the electronic.
Assumption 4: The library profession is a satisfying one.
After doing multiple library visits and talking to various librarians for each of my three classes this semester, this is looking pretty good (whew!). So I’ll just repeat what I said before: as someone who likes reading, learning new things, and helping people, helping people learn new things and find good books (without having to write lesson plans or grade papers) sounds like a pretty fabulous job.
Adkins, M., Clare, A., Jackson, A., Khoury, M., and McElhatton, G. (2013). Social networking: Adoption and impact on libraries and information centers [Web log]. Retrieved from http://6010team1.blogspot.com/
Association of College and Research Libraries. (2013). Information literacy coordinating committee. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/infolit/ilcc
Association of College and Research Libraries. (2013). Information literacy resources. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/infolit
Digital Public Library of America. (n.d.). DPLA. Retrieved from dp.la
Gaiman, N. (2013, October 15). Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
Maatta, S. L. (2013, October 17). Placements & salaries 2013: The emerging databrarian. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/10/placements-and-salaries/2013-survey/the-emerging-databrarian/#_
Stout, R. (2013, August 30). Welcome! [Web log post] Retrieved from https://musingsofalibrarianintraining.wordpress.com/2013/08/