Three Quarters Through the Semester

Challenge #1: The textbook from 2009 stresses as important standard works reference titles no local libraries can afford to buy. Oh, we used to have them a few years ago, but tight times forced us to make hard decisions. In many cases, libraries have either dropped the subscription, substituted an e-resource, or allowed old editions to remain on the shelves.

Challenge #2: Since 2009, people’s information seeking habits have changed drastically. Mobile devices have proliferated, allowing people to be online on demand. Many questions that would have been brought to the reference desk are being self-answered by searching online  instead. The kinds of questions that are now being brought to the reference desk are tech questions about e-book downloads, music downloads, photo uploads, and how to establish a free e-mail account in order to fill out online job applications. Enquiring LIS students want to know: Will there be jobs for us after graduation?

Challenge #3: With all the changes that have occurred over the last 3 years, what will librarianship, and especially reference services, look like in the next 3 years? There’s no end of talk about embedding in community businesses and organizations, creating partnerships, outreach, social media and virtual reference. The general last-gasp consensus is that libraries will endure, and there will always be books of one sort or another, but that the services will be transformed. Libraries are now becoming “maker spaces” and providing a supermarket for non-traditional library services, such as passport application processing, self-publishing, continuing-ed centers with classes in Office software and job seeking skills.

Really? for this we need higher education? I feel like a buggy-whip manufacturer in the new age of gas-powered automobiles.

So why bother learning about reference interviews and how to “read” a book in 5 minutes in order to know its content and be able to show people how to use it?  Am I teaching a new generation of buggy whip makers? What skills should those entering the library field have?

I’m not the only one to be writing about this – we’re all going through an identity crisis right about now. The profession is changing, and traditional librarians are becoming obsolete. We need to stop tossing straws in the wind  and start asking people what they expect from the library. And then give it to them.

11/27: Michael Stephens carries this further in his article in Library Journal.

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