Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Following up on that vision comment

Today we had a Library Senior Management Group Open Forum. Apparently these happen semi-regularly, although I'm not entirely clear on how they are used. Today's was used to give a good overview to all the newbies, myself included, on a whole bunch of stuff - the University as a whole (and what the Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice Chancellors and Pro Vice Chancellors do), board structures, where the Library fits into all of this, as well as an overview of what the different units of the Library do.

It was good, although much of it I had heard before, of course. The general uni stuff was good, because I think uni people forget how overwhelming universities can be to non uni people. They talk about faculties and pro vice chancellors and presiding members and associate professors like we know what that means, and we really truly don't. Tomorrow I have my UNSW orientation - a little delayed, but I'm looking forward to it.

But for me the best part of today's open forum was the bit at the end where we got to ask, well, any questions we wanted. Most of the questions asked were operational - when will this be done by, how are you dealing with that challenge, etc. - but I found myself thinking of my recent comments about lacking a vision for the Library. So I asked the big boss to tell me what his 10 year vision for the Library was. I was both concerned and relieved that he didn't have a simple, clear answer.

But his vision was interesting - it was about the virtual library. And part of what he was talking about was this understanding that about twice as many people use the virtual library as the physical one, and so how do we make it so that people still feel like they're using the library? Many of the academics I'm speaking to comment that they don't use the library, they get all their stuff online, and I have to explain to them that online is still the library - hell, there is a HUGE amount of money dedicated to these online resources, so it had better be the library!

So how do you make people feel like they're using the library when they don't visit the building? I think us Outreach Librarians are going to contribute to that quite a bit, but there must be other ways. Do you try and get all these people into some kind of online community? Can we use social networking tools to achieve this goal, and how can we do that given that academics will resist anything that smacks of taking extra time or effort? We can't ask them to do more, and we can't ask them to behave differently, so how do we create this without them changing?

No answers here folks. But if you have any ideas or can point me in the direction of someone else's ideas, I'd love to hear them.


Librarian Idol said...

Something I noticed when working in academic libraries is that there is a lot more money spent on online information resources than physical information resources, but the majority of library staff resources is used in processing books, journals, etc and working the circulation desk. There's something not quite right about that.

As to your question - I think part of the answer is to have your clients regularly consulting librarians - after all, it's the professional staff who make it a library service - not just the collection.

Librarians should go out of the physical library, and work with the students and academics in their own study/work spaces, such as offices and study labs, in demonstrating and helping them access the library resources effectively. If the library is no longer limited to the physical library space, then neither are librarians, and if library stakeholders are no longer seeing the need to enter the library building, then academic library staff need to go out to the clients so that they realise that the service is still there, and it is still relevant to their work.

Kate said...

I think that a big part of this process is being able to articulate the value of 'the library' because if we can't identify what value we offer, we cannot communicate that value to our community, online or otherwise.

It is easy to assume that the physical act of coming to the library means that people are engaging with the library in a more meaningful way simply because we get to be the nice ladies (sorry guys out there) in the library and feel good that people are making us feel useful. However, maybe we don't need to remind people that they are using the library. I certainly don't think my academics care where the resources come from so long as they are there and I am not sure that any amount of branding will change that.

What we need to be doing to making sure that we can demonstrate this change in the identity of the library and the value that we are offering to the people with the money who determine our future. They are the only ones who really need to care about what it means to be 'using' the library and how many people/in what way they are doing it.