When I Was Younger and Learning to Code …

… I spent hours – days – weeks perfecting a simple web page. I pored over html textbooks; I took online css classes; I incorporated what I learned into both work and personal web pages. Since then, xhtml and xml are being taught in library school, and hand-coded library web pages are both more sophisticated and fewer in number.

Today, blogs take care of most of that automatically. One selects a template, adds content and a few links for personalization, and a new web page is born. Although my home-built page is still out there, I no longer maintain it. It’s so much easier to blog and link to photos in my Flickr account. In fact, it’s so easy, I now have multiple blogs: for family news, for family history and stories, for work, and for Central Library. Anyone can be a web publisher – no coding skills needed.

Some say traditional library professional skills are going the way of hand-coding. With the advent of “Web 2.o” and “Library 2.0”, with the delivery of services and materials online, traditional cataloging is giving way to tagging; traditional print materials are giving way to playaways and graphic novels; traditional face-to-face services are now available online. Supervisors in several library jurisdictions are placing paraprofessionals at reference desks, because the kinds of questions that are asked has changed, and no longer need a professional librarian to answer them. Technical aides provide assistance at the public computers. Administrators are looking for ways to keep libaries’ profiles high and their publics satisfied in order to continue receiving government funding.

It’s very easy to get swept away by the “2.0” excitement and begin adding toys and services willy-nilly. The hard part is choosing which ones will ultimately be useful, which ones staff are willing to embrace and adopt, and which will endure instead of being made obsolete by the Next Big Thing.

In my opinion, mobile telephones will become more and more important, and libraries need to look at how their services can be tailored to fit the capabilities of those devices. “Smart phones” like Treos, Blackberries, and the iPhone connect their owners with information in ways not even dreamed of just a few years ago. Prices of both phones and service plans are coming down, and new applications are being developed almost daily. Who would have thought, just two years ago, that gps would be standard on a cellphone? That regular web pages could be viewed on a small screen (iPhone)?

Working in the Telephone Reference center at my library puts me in touch with the spectrum of library users, from those who automatically think to call us first, to those who have already tried to find their answers and use the library as a last resort.  What surprises me is the number of people who use us like directory assistance, and ask us to find phone numbers of lost family members, customer service departments, celebrities, owners of local properties, and city departments. The phone company now charges for directory assistance – and the library doesn’t!

How can we use this knowledge? About half of those who call actually do NOT have a home Internet connection. The other half has already used the Internet and needs either more help or more information.  I think we need to re-think our phone service – maybe instead of an e-branch, create a p-branch.  There should be a way to route phone calls to the appropriate circulation or reference staff and have the questions handled – not throw roadblocks up because our “procedures” don’t address real telephone service – just information about how the patron can do something else to get service (like phoning another number or coming in to a branch.) What would it take to deliver outstanding telephone service?

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