What librarians, cooks and call centre workers have in common


Anonymous Patron sends "this from "ExplodedLibrary.com Think libraries ever had a monopoly on providing information to people? How did we lose it? What does that mean for the future of how we do our jobs? What does working in a call center have to do with being a librarian?

Our challenge as librarians is to secure our place in the information marketplace. It’s a waste of time for us to try to be all things to all people in what has become something really huge. It is better to do a few things really well.

Are librarians the fast food workers, or the high end chefs of the future?"


The article simplifies what we do for a living. We do not only provide information we also provide an educational experience on how to locate the information. The real crime is that we as a profession sit back and allow others to trivialize it. We know through our experience that a reference request needs to be refined before an effective search begins. People who do not either have a reference interview or some other means to clarify what is being searched can traverse the world on the INTERNET and still not find what they are looking for. The world looks at our profession like a geometry proof. Remember in school you got very few points for the conclusion and the most points for the proof itself. Our society demands immediate gratification of our needs, information searches are no different. We need to teach the public about the service we perform and how it really will make their search more effective. As I have said before our professional organizations spend too much time in politics and not enough time selling the public on who we are and what we provide for THEM.

(a slightly different version of this comment has been cross-posted on my blog)

Wow, this is the closest thing that a library blog can get to being slashdotted.

I think that Rochelle did a great job of distilling the essence of that particular portion of my post – which also included some simplifying, but not in a bad way.

I certainly agree that these changes in the information market do not amount to a zero sum game. That was one of my points, that there is room for a lot of different players.

Maybe this is heresy or flamebait, but I don’t think that there is anything sacred or unique about the Reference Interview. Other professions do a similar thing, it just doesn’t have the same name and is usually more unconscious. It doesn’t matter whether you are a librarian, lawyer, doctor or even a call centre worker, you still need to find out what the person you are talking to really wants, as opposed to what he or she is saying.

My concern is that librarians are losing mindshare, especially amongst younger people. While working at an academic law library, it was distressing to see how each new class of students had less of an idea than their predecessors of what libraries did and how they were relevant . Of course we tried to educate our patrons, and once in a while there were those magical moments when our students realized how powerful these research tools and techniques were (and how helpful librarians could be).

Of course we need to improve how we market the profession to the general public as well to the specific groups and individuals whom we serve. This is a constant need, on the micro and macro level. I am worried that we are giving out the wrong messages which is making our efforts counter-productive.

Most library users (and I dare say, all people who don’t use libraries) don’t like being preached to by librarians. If people like using Google, I worry that we are being kill-joys by pointing out all its short-comings. Sometimes people want to be shown how to do effective research for themselves, but often they just want get the best answer and run with it. This does not make them bad people.

Rather than trying to fight our future and perpetuate the bad old stereotypes about libraries and librarians, we need to accept that many of our patrons have changed irrevocably , and adjust to this.

Libraries never was a monopoly in information provision. It held a strong position in the days before the Internet came along. Internet added another dimension to information retrieval, information dissemination, information provision, and more importantly, it gave people choice. Information is information in whatever form, place, or time. It is true that many other professions have a function of information provision. Teachers, financial advisors, doctors, lawyers, etc. The only difference is that librarians and "information professionals" have been specially trained in this field. This does not mean that teachers, financial advisors, doctors, lawyers, etc. are any worse at information provision than librarians or "information professionals", as they are specialists in their fields. It largely depends on the communication skills of the individual. Where libraries have lost the edge is their continual reliance on archaic methodologies such as MARC and AACR2 that hinder search and retrieval of information, and largely English text at that, as they cannot deal with multimedia nor multi-languages simultaneously. Information no longer consist of just text and library systems cannot handle multimedia nor multi-languages effectively. So much for information provision, when we live in a multicultural society and global village.

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