Sunday, May 30, 2010

A world without books?

As a follow up to my recent posts about the growing need of the library profession to embrace new knowledge media, I thought I would post something about the downside of losing books. Aside from their longevity, books provide a tangibility and personality that cannot be mimicked by technology.

A note about personal notes by the New York Times.

A library without books?

I first encountered Cushing Academy while researching the use and effect of e-readers in public and academic libraries. This private school has embraced new technology, by requiring e-readers for their students, and consequently put books, an "outdated technology," on the back burner. Since the inception of this idea, the Cushing Academy Library has cut its book inventory by more than half and plans to diminish the collection even further. This begs the question: Are books such an outdated technology that we don't need them in secondary schools?

See the latest Boston Globe article here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miss Manners' choice words to cranky librarians

Today, while I was reading the American Libraries Direct, the e-newsletter from the American Library Association I came across a link to this article by Miss Manners in Mercury News.

As much as I would like to think public perception of librarians is changing, I must reluctantly admit that many current librarians are actively enforcing the stereotype of the dour, cranky woman behind the reference or circulation desk. The official ALA interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights includes a section on the importance of patron privacy, stating that “Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association.” Since 1939, the ALA has recognized that protecting patron privacy is an integral mission of libraries. That is, patrons must know that the questions they ask, the books they check out, and the information they pursue will not be a matter of public record or scrutiny. This nosy librarian, in addition to perpetuating an unflattering stereotype, is actually violating a core principle of the American Library Association.

Miss Manners’ response, however, provides a glimmer of hope. She recognizes that the library profession is one that increasingly requires technological skills and the ability to ferret out information regardless of medium. However, in her own glib way the maven of etiquette tells her reader that librarians (or at least this one in particular) don’t fit their market. They are still dowdy, cranky, nosy, and inhibited. If the public perception of the librarian profession has changed enough so that a Miss Manners in San Jose, California has recognized its need for technologically savvy professionals, when will the perceptions of librarians change? Moreover, when will the librarian who perpetuate these stereotypes change?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beyond Web 2.0

As an addition to my previous post, a discussion on where technologies and libraries are headed. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Web 2.0 means internet-based technologies that facilitate user interaction and user publication of information. That is, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and any site where a user can leave comments about an article, video, or other posts.

Plan C: Tech Trends Beyond Social Networking and Web 2.0 by Analog Divide

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why loving books isn't enough

Over the past few weeks, I have encountered a spectrum of opinions on the future of libraries and librarians.

Much to my surprise, many people newly entering the profession are doing so because “they love books.” Some have chosen the path of the librarian because of a love of knowledge. However, precious few entered the field because of the changes imminent in the library world.

Why, you may ask, am I surprised that so many people enter the world because of a love of the written word? After all, working in a library is every 14-year-old bookworms dream--to be surrounded by the quiet, but faithful friends, one’s favorite books. However, in 2010, this is a romantic ideal. The library still holds books but they are no longer the primary source for information. The internet is brimming with useful (and useless) information. A website can be updated instantly, whereas the information in a book can become outdated the minute it is published. Fiction and philosophy aside, books have lost their status as the primary medium of information.

Because of this shift, those who have chosen the library field because of their love of knowledge are better suited to the profession than those who profess a love of books. Books were, generally, safe information. That is, if a manuscript made it through the screening, editing, and printing stage, the information it contained had a high chance of being accurate. Obviously, this was not always the case, but 40 years ago, a librarian could hand a patron a book with relative confidence in the content without having read it prior. Now, since the internet has become a primary medium of information, a librarian must know how to determine accuracy and reliability of a source. Those who love knowledge have the motivation and drive to become information guides--people whose primary job is not to catalog information, but to determine its reliability.

Increasingly, however, this role as an information guide requires technological skills not currently taught in many information and library science institutions. In order to determine reliability, accuracy, and relevance, one must be able to investigate the source of the information as well as analyze the information itself. Sooner than many people realize, this skill will involve understanding basic coding. As the population becomes more dependent on computers for all media consumption, the language of computers will become increasingly important to librarians. While librarians may not need to write code fluently for a while (if ever), very soon they will need to be able to read code. Currently, only the nerdiest of librarians (yes, there are some librarians even nerdier than average) will be able to fill this role.

Digitally born information is the future of libraries and both librarians and the schools training them need to recognize this. The role of librarians as organizers of and guides to information resources will never become obsolete. However, unless the profession embraces technology and all its languages and components, librarians, as we know them, might become a thing of the past.