Proactivity as a Skill

Who are librarians?  Are they generally all the people employed by the library?  I had a patron at a public library refer to me as a librarian when I was working at the circulation desk.  I had a similar experience at an academic library.  Most patrons are not aware of the difference between a clerk and librarian, because they do not have an appreciation of the differences in the skill sets of each.  Librarians are diabolically aware of the skills required to provide user service and the skill sets needed to continue to effectively serve users and patrons in the future are greatly affected by many issues.

One issue affecting the future competencies of librarians is what references services will look like.  With a current emphasis on learning, implementing, and using technology to offer more traditional services, librarians will need to be more proactive in their approach to the services they offer.  This is for the simple reason that information can be found and obtained from other sources besides the library and users are well aware of this.

(…developing a framework of the skills, reference services as an example)

Not that users are aware of the perils of not employing information literacy skills or research and search techniques.  These skills and techniques are designed to vet out most of the garbage information found on the internet.  Many users I have talked with while working at the reference desk have told me they start their research with Google, but in this particular case did not find what they were looking for and therefore required help form the library.  This poses an interesting dichotomy to me.

On the one had information seekers are using Google to satisfy their information needs and are perfectly fulfilled by this action.  However, they are willing to refer to the library for assistance when they do not find the information online.  I think it can be implied users are aware of the library’s existence and usefulness, but do not view the library as their first starting place for research.  Users have a perception that Google and other online search engines are a better starting point.  In a way, users are not far from the mark in thinking this.

I think online searches are another good place to start researching a topic, as long as the sources of information found are either used as a way to garner a general understanding of a topic or are vetted for their efficacy using information literacy skills.  However, there is a small minority of users that have acquired these skills or are aware of their need for them.  This is why my advice for patrons approaching the reference is to find a source in the reference section of the library first, a source that is generally understood to be scholarly and has already been selected for its informational veracity.

(… Google is the source of our frustration)

There seems to be someone always saying libraries should be better at gathering information for users and beat Google at their own game, but my question is why.  Why should libraries and librarians take on the gigantic, mega information gathering and search engine corporation that is Google?  What the heck would that do and what purpose would that serve for our patrons, seriously?  Obviously our patrons and users prefer to use online search engines over library OPAC’s for reasons that still elude and befuddle some information professionals.

I have not exactly conducted a survey or scholarly research on the subject, however I can tell you from my own personal observations that online search engines are easier to search (for novices), provide a greater sea of potential information to pick from (not withstanding its inherent lack of credible information), and provide that information much quicker that libraries and librarians.

Like it or not, Google has set the bar for information seeking in our society and there is nothing librarians can do about it now, except complain like ten year olds apparently.  Our profession should, and has noticed in some circles, take note of this and conduct its future contemplations of how it offers reference services with it in mind.

(… disconnect)

Again, from my observations at the reference desk, users do not seem to care how they get the information they seek or how a librarian, who wants to use their interaction as an annoying opportunity (on the patron’s part) to teach them how to conducting research, a learning/teaching opportunity.  Patrons want to ask you once, not have a long discussion about their topic (reference interview), and have you ‘fetch’ it for them.  I hate to say it, but there is no denying users just want their information needs gratified as quickly as possible.  This idea can be summed up by the instance in which a patron approaches an information professional with a question and the information professional goes about their business finding that information, while the user plays with their iPod or takes a phone call and gratifies their immature and rude tendencies to continually develop their chronic attention deficit disorder.  It is a sign of the times.

The reference services offered by libraries is already changing to meet the needs of these types and the more preferable patrons.  However, librarians and information professionals do not get it.  Ask a professional if they are aware or have had similar experiences like the situations above and more reference librarians will answer in the positive.  But the reference services being provided and the policies and plans in place could be viewed as in direct opposition to this.  Those teaching opportunities are still being opportuned and information literacy programs are still being pushed down users’ throats.  Teaching opportunities and information literacy are important, but the business as usual mentality of promoting and marketing them has to change.

(… making sense of it all)

All this means information professionals will need to have the skills necessary to make decisions about how to enhance the services they provide users though understanding what their users truly want.  Skills that will compliment this are those pertaining to market research and technology to name a few, those which allow for understanding users and implementing changes to library services that fulfill user needs.  Librarians will need to be proactive instead of reactive.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.

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