Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Internet Librarian 2006

Back in October, I attended Internet Librarian out in lovely Monterey, CA. It was a hoot, and I was asked by my institution to write up an article about what I heard and saw for the internal newsletter.

Internet Librarian 2006
Librarianship, as we know it, has shifted fundamentally. I won’t say “changed,” because the core of our work – providing professional & scholastic information, lifelong learning resources and recreational reading & activities – hasn’t changed. But there has been a seismic shift in how we provide those services. In October, I attended Internet Librarian, a conference now in its 10th year, to learn more about the increasing importance of online/digital library services.

The presentations I went to typically fell into one of two categories: ways to improve the public library’s presence in a digital/online environment; and tools and technologies that libraries are or could incorporate into their services.

Around the world, institutions are bringing "Library 2.0" to their communities. Moreover, these changes aren’t limited to libraries with piles of money and plenty of staff. The key is not resources, but attitude: making innovation, adaptation and change part of everyday work. These are libraries and librarians constantly looking for ways to improve service to all of their users – the ones who walk in the door and the ones who don’t. Mobile Services is reborn for the new era: rather than a bookmobile, we have the Internet, delivering library services to patrons around the world, free of charge, 24 hours a day.

One of the most inspirational things I heard at Internet Librarian was a job title: Digital Branch and Services Manager. A Digital Branch would start with our website and all of our electronic resources and then expand to push our presence further out into the online world, where our patrons are. Having a dedicated and supported Digital Branch would allows us to provide these services without overwhelming staff and would let us present a single, unified presence to the outside world. This is the kind of vision and commitment we need to have now.

What are these digital services? These are a few of the possibilities presented at the conference:

  • a portal to invite patrons into our world of service, customizable to their needs
  • all of our databases and electronic resources, prominently featured and widely publicized
  • a user-friendly and interactive catalog, where patrons can enter reviews of materials and find things based on tags (user-created subject terms) and commonsense subject information
  • blog-based book discussion groups for adults, teens and children
  • instant-messaging (IM), text-messaging (SMS) and mobile reference, in addition to email and telephone reference
  • new books featured on Flickr (a photo-hosting site), with direct links to the catalog for requests
  • screencast tutorials on how to use our services
  • interactive maps of all buildings, with virtual tours to make our main building less intimidating to new patrons
  • Ecards for everyone, regardless of physical location, to have full access to our online services
  • thematic booklists maintained on wikis, so that any librarian can update and annotate
    a reference blog
  • a monthly podcast from the library, featuring department, division and branch heads highlighting what’s new & interesting
  • entries written by staff on an official library blog
  • articles written by staff in online publications
  • an official presence in MySpace, Xanga, LiveJournal and the other community-based blog sites
  • classes, both online and in-person, on social computing technologies (e.g., blogs, wikis, Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube, CiteULike, IM/chat, etc.)
  • and ideas that haven’t been imagined yet
No library out there is doing all of this, but many libraries are doing at least some of it. There was far, far too much material for me to go into detail here, but I’ll provide a PDF of my notes (which also appear on my blog) to anyone who is interested.

In short, there is a wide digital world out there that our institution has barely begun to explore. Many individual librarians here are comfortable with and knowledgeable about this technology, and see the future path of public librarianship in it, but now the time has come for our library as a whole to become the library our users want and need us to be.

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