How do we prove value and improve usability within the library?
We all hear about it, we all talk about it, and we’re all afraid it may come true unless we do something about it. But, how do we go about regaining the need for libraries and prove their value to the general public?
We have a public that naively feels that Google and Wikipedia searches have the same authoritative foundation as the Encyclopedia Britannica or Oxford Dictionary.
Why would they go to a library if they can find what they “want” in the privacy of their own home on their home computer?
This class has taught us that libraries and librarians must evolve to meet the demands of a growing technological savvy information seeking public in a variety of ways:
• Libraries need to restructure their physical layout to provide a seamless draw that invites community members off the streets, out of their homes and into a comfortable knowledge-seeking environment. The “signs” and not necessarily just physical signs (non-verbal signs too) must be non-threatening and respectful with a bit of humor and creativity when appropriate. How we restructure our libraries will have to involve the community with their input for needs and “wants.” It must be a place where people want to go.
• Library interfaces need to be redesigned with the intention of offering as much research material as possible, but accordingly for community patrons of all ages and all learning levels. Websites/OPACS can be simple, easy to read, easy to decipher and easy to navigate through with links to varying degrees of research complexity for experienced searchers. It must be an encouraging and a rewarding learning experience; one that produces an efficient and thorough satisfactory result.
• There must be a catalog that offers the ability to search in-depth subjects and topics by library staff for serious research-patrons but is should also be designed for browsing ease for those patrons who are “casually” searching for library materials. Catalogers must communicate and accept input from reference librarians and patrons.
• Stacks need subject-signage alongside catalog identification; subject designation should be equally understood by both librarian and patron. How many of us have witnessed patrons who suddenly gain a glazed look in their eyes once they are face to face with Dewey numbers? This side-by-side procedure can be easily and immediately implemented.
• Librarians need to rethink their roles and be more pro-active. Having a reference desk is still a viable (perhaps transitional?) option for reassuring those patrons who need an anchor or base station (perhaps for librarians, too). But, the future should be roving reference librarians – and, why not? Just as in retail stores, having a service person available whether or not s/he approaches the customer first makes good customer service-sense – “be approachable.”How many more questions may be asked because it’s convenient to ask? The only way to find out for librarians is be present in the midst of the stacks and among inquiring patrons.
• Creating and making use of a blog illustrated a shared networking space for ongoing communication which can be a useful tool for librarians. Librarians, whether working locally or internationally, can use blogs for gathering thoughts, comments, suggestions and ideas on various library service or research topics. It can be a bit like brainstorming with an opportunity to receive peer-feedback and constructive criticism.
Learned during summer DFW
While participating in a Directed Fieldwork at the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library, I learned different protocol and routines which is understandable considering the size of the library system. But, it also means that if a change were to be suggested, it could be a slow process with ample roadblocks which is a common occurrence in large organizations (i.e.: following established and agreed to procedures and policies); there is no guarantee of implementation.
Even though many major library systems are receptive to Avant-guard ideas with the best of intentions, budgeting or funding concerns and the fear of having “it not work” can be a major roadblocks. I would be curious to see if offered justification, how willing library administrations would be to accept our aggregate ideas for merging its library system with information technology services in partnership with its community.
Learning while working in UW Special Collections
Librarians offer and are the best resources for change. Learning theory is great, but in the end, it’s the product that really counts. Application and practicality of library services and systems is where a librarian is the expert. If something is not working out in the stacks, on the reference desk, via online, or in the catalogs, who knows best why it’s not working and how the problem may be resolved. This is an approach more corporations should take to heart – listen to front-line staff.
I am presently working with a librarian/curator who recognized a current organizing process was not working and even though it has been in place for years, she’s decided to change it. Her change may be difficult for some who are uncomfortable with transitions but it makes a great deal of spatial sense and will, hopefully, prevent staff members from injuring themselves. It may be suggested that the only way the process was changed was because of the position she holds, but in the short time I have worked with her, I have found her to be receptive and open to suggestions for improvement in all areas.
Within a rapidly evolving technology information sharing world, libraries cannot accept the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The adage is archaic and its meaning threatens the very existence of libraries if they ignore the impact of technology on their patrons. Meeting expectations is not enough; libraries and librarians must challenge themselves by being willing to be in the forefront of technology and design by producing and delivering information services and products. By helping create and maintain the services and products, libraries will prove themselves as an invaluable tool and a vital part of their community.