Library 2.X: What Now?

A "Models for Change" retreat for librarians from Brigham Young University,

Utah State University, and the University of Utah

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This blog was used for the original Utah research library retreat: "Planning for Research Success in the 21st Century: A Retreat for Librarians from Utah." It will continue to be used for the follow-up retreat: "Library 2.X: What Now?" Please use it to exchange ideas before, during, and after the retreat. If you would like permission to post to the blog, contact Steven Harris.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Lunch Discussion: What is Unique about the Library on Today's University Campus?

At our library retreat lunch table, the conversation ranged across a number of topics, but we seemed to return often to these questions:

"Why does the university need the library? What does the library do that matters, and that no one else can do as well?"

The following are a few of our ideas with the discussion that followed:
  • Library as place--Recently, we have heard a lot of discussion about libraries creating inviting and collaborative workspaces for students. Study space is available in lots of places, both on and off campus. Should the core purpose of libraries be to provide study space?
  • Help from a real person--Reference help from a real person is now a service not entirely unique to the academic library. The internet search service Cha Cha allows you to chat online with a real person if you don't find what you need. (On a side note: Although I have not used Cha Cha myself, my husband tried it once when he was looking for the technical term for a web programming problem. The person he chatted with was not able to help, because he wasn't familiar with the terminology either.)
  • Access to materials--Libraries provide their patrons with free access to materials. Some of this access is available online for a fee, and the amount of free information is ever increasing online. This traditional library service is also facing some threats from the online environment.
  • Instruction--Libraries provide instruction in a number of different formats, including face-to-face, about using our resources and collections. We are experts at targeting searches and making information more "findable" and relevant. But, will we be needed to provide this assistance in the future, as search tools and other technologies become more and more efficient and intuitive?
  • Organization of information.
One other note about the reference help from real people idea: The traditional role of librarians has been to connect the person to information. Now, it seems, computers connect the person to information. What does this mean for us?

We briefly discussed how to measure the library's success. Statistics reporting our activities (including instruction, reference, etc.) can be used to justify what we do. Does the size of a collection matter? We concluded that it does not to the person looking for information. In today's climate, libraries need to measure our activities in terms of efficiency--we need to do everything quickly, cheaply, and provide an accessible format.

We all agreed that the changes facing us will be relentless--and if we do not respond well, we will become irrelevant.


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