Thursday, June 10, 2010
Response to the future of libraries and librarians debate
OK pessimist, I suppose you think in this future of yours that we’ll have robots to create and manage these entirely online libraries, automated response systems to manage virtual reference (or no need for reference at all) and all our clients will be studying as individuals from home, Mars or wherever else they exist with no need for social interaction? I just can’t see any signs that the future you imagine is even remotely possible. Have you not seen how vibrant and social the library is? Most people don’t want to study at home alone all the time – why do you think the library is so busy?!? Not because people come here ‘just for the books’ or even ‘just for the computers’ it’s because they like the social space the library provides. It gives them somewhere to meet up, see and be seen, a sense of community, a place they feel they belong and belongs to them! And as more and more of our lives is spent online the desire to spend time online together increases. As long as this trend continues I can't see people suddenly not coming to the library which is what you're saying will happen. As long as students continue to flock to the library - libraries will continue to be vibrant social spaces.
As for your notion that the future for librarians lies in collection development - maybe I should change professions now! I really can't see where that idea comes from. We already have approval plans for much of our collection development as a way to automate the system so we 'librarians' can spend our time on other things. What are those other things and what will they be in the future? I think we spend out time trying to engage with clients in more collaborative ways. Embed ourselves in their study and research practices (online and physical). The thing is they 'don't know what they don't know' so we need to find ways to connect with clients and join them as active content creators, advocates of a social approach to information seeking and use, mentors in evaluating, synthesising, analysing and ethically reusing information. I'm sure more and more of our library services will be online, librarians will be able to work from home but I don't think we'll be less visible - I think we need to be more visible - regardless of physical or digital space. Another whole can of worms would be to bring up the ever growing digital divide - how can you assume all clients will stop needing our help?
To sum up, I think in 100 years from now libraries will be very different but only because of changes to sociocultural practices surrounding technology which I think will bring us all closer together not further apart. As I've said before: the future is what we make it, there is no truth, reality is socially constructed and I'm proud to be a librarian.