This past week I attended the OLA’s annual Super Conference in Toronto. The sessions that I chose were kind of split between disappointing, and terrific. I never think that I’ll love everything I attend, so it was to be expected. Especially coming from a special library, I’m not exactly the target audience for the OLA conference, as it’s largely public and academic librarians, but I digress…
One session that I truly loved (and that still has me thinking) was delivered by Karen Calhoun (OCLC) and Rick Anderson (University of Utah Libraries). The subtitle of this session was “Let them eat… everything: embracing a patron-driven future.”
The awesomeness of this session was due to Rick’s radical and forward-thinking ideas of how libraries should adapt to the times and trends by modifying library workflows, to “trim the fat” of long-standing and unquestioned core library services. The way he put it, there are many services that libraries provide that while not “insane”, are definitely “less sane”. For example, he spoke about Interlibrary Loan. When you think about it, ILL is… ridiculous and wasteful. Someone wants a book that isn’t available at your library, so it’s ordered from a library across the country for that person to use (an extreme instance I know, but stay with me…).
A second example of “less sane” core services is the academic reference desk. Rick argued that as a service model, the reference desk relies on the hope that only a fraction of students will use it. It is impossible and impractical for thousands of students to queue at the reference desk for research assistance. While it’s the intention of Reference Departments to provide reference and instruction to as many students as they can, feasibly it is an impossible goal. Further, an instruction session can usually contain 20-40 people, maximum? In-class library instruction is on the way out. He proposes that libraries should eliminate this core service and develop services based on ease of use. That is, improved information architecture on library websites and more online guides to ease discoverability and the flow of desired information. Information literacy and instruction on Youtube, anyone?
Librarians and libraries have gotten very good at doing these core services, which could (and as Rick would argue, should) be eliminated. He asserted that more sane services would include document delivery & purchasing articles as a solution to overspending on unused serial titles, using and perfecting Wikipedia, patron-driven acquisition (i.e. acquiring what’s demonstrably wanted rather than traditional collection development), and ease of use as an alternative philosophy to bibliographic instruction. I think for the most part, these are accurate, legitimate, and sensible recommendations.
Overall I’m impressed and refreshed by this kind of radical and unpopular thinking. It’s time for librarians to shake it up, think innovatively and outside the box about library procedures and service delivery. Beyond thinking differently, let’s start making changes to meet our users’ needs and put an end to the “less sane” services that, although we’ve gotten very good at doing, simply aren’t realistic or sustainable.