25 May 2011

Let's crack this cliche!: What Librarians really do today

There's been a lot in the news lately (at least in my area) about Librarians, Libraries, their value and their purpose.   It's a constant frustration for Librarians in 2011 and one I've touched on in the past but am going to again take this opportunity to try and hit home the change in the Library world and the profession.


There are multiple issues but for the sake of being succinct let's focus on the big one:

 Librarians are dated, book-loving redundant people in a world of technology and 'Internet' resources

There are some major things already wrong with this statement so lets deal with the technicalities first.  Technology is a Librarian's main resource today; the Internet does not dole out free quality information, it merely acts as an tool to discover information.  In other words you can Google something and know it's there but try accessing the cream of the crop information without a Library: it'll cost a small fortune when you're done.  Google itself, although an amazing tool simply doesn't have the algorithms for cutting out all the bumf and getting to the good stuff: but that also was never its purpose.  It crawls the whole of the world wide web and returns a massive amount of results including, websites, businesses, videos, books, documents, blogs, online stores and the list goes on.  It is excellent at tying  keywords to what its algorithm deems relevant sites or sources but doesn't offer any sort of proper raking of quality.   What's the result?  Far too many people under the false impression that information, and health/treatment information at that, can be adequately and solely sourced from Google and that everything is available on the 'Internet'.

There's a difference between what I will call 'Internet' resources (commonly referred free resources found in a search engine) and electronic or e-resources (usually expensive but high-quality resources, articles, information offered via a Library, company purchase or a very steep credit card bill).  Information is a business and commodity and this is where Librarians come in.  Librarians are expert information professionals, highly knowledgeable about the resources and how they integrate into ICT, they work to negotiate prices to open-up access to these resources to patrons, they offer expertise and training on almost anything information/knowledge related (this scope is growing exponentially, thought to double every five years now). 

We may love books (but as the explosion of the ebook market shows we're not the only ones!) but it no longer is our be and end-all.  I'll be honest, it's rare that I touch a book at work and I don't have that many to work with anyways! Instead, my day is spent either in front of a computer, in a training lab, in teh departments or in meeting rooms.  My expertise and skills are what define my role not the few materials on the last existing shelf.  The space may be a bit print-lean but the computers, study space and group areas are just as important to the modern patron.  The Library may look different, the Librarian may do things differently but that doesn't mean it's an irrelevant space or occupation, in fact they may even be more relevent in the 2011 information-rich society than ever before.

Knowledge and education should never really need an explanation: unfortunatey all too often it does.

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