You got to move it, move it

I read the recent JISC briefing paper on how academic libraries should be supporting digital researchers.  Hoping to test how relevant my thinking is being 5 months now out of school,  I was glad to find both stuff I knew (got it, working on it) and some explicit examples of the new digital resources that I wasn’t aware of (virtual research environments (VREs)?). What’s disheartening is how much the rest of it is just confirmation of what has been needed for the past 3 years (if not more).  And, considering the slow pace of publishing research, there is the fact that this kind of briefing is like a new car that has left the lot — from a value perspective it just ‘aint new anymore.  This is not, ” The future of academic libraries use looks like…”.  No, it is showing you where we are failing our users. It is the results of a number of studies on experiences in the US and UK on what people want, how people want to use academic libraries’ digital resources and what they have not been getting.

Take this one, for example:

Library systems need to look and function more like
search engines (eg Google) and popular web services
(eg, as these are familiar to users who
are comfortable and confident in using them

It’s almost a shame that this one is even in there.  The keyword I see here, though, is not LOOK, but FUNCTION.   Libraries have spent a lot of time making their OPAC look like Google by reducing the search options as much as possible to a single box.  Well, in the words of my 4 yr old — “You can’t joke me, because I too smart”.  Folks, it is not enough.  It’s not even not enough, its pitiful that we would think we’re staying relevant by making search screen’s visually mimic Google and call it a day.  Of course it must function more like Google.  It just should.   More and more in my daily work I am seeing user questions where they are looking at a piece of information in the catalog and expecting it to link them somewhere else and, of course,  it just does not do this.  If you want to talk about library irrelevance, here it is.  Our great informational cross-reference data is pretty much IRRELEVANT if it is not networked to that which it is referencing.   Librarians are good at organizing things and making connections…for you to find it.  What we must be better at is more than connections, its making live connections.   This is where the next one comes in:

Library systems must do better at providing seamless
access to resources such as full-text e-journals,
online foreign-language materials, e-books, a
variety of electronic publishers’ platforms and virtual
reference desk services.

This was towards the top of the lists (before the Google one) and I thought at first this was a “got it, working on it” one.  I was thinking, of course, of the linking capabilities from aggregator databases to the resources in our libraries full-text e-journals and online catalog.  No this isn’t perfect.  But it is a very good way in which we are trying to meet this need and a good one to continue improving. But that alone misses the broader phenomenon I mentioned earlier — that people’s minds are just more network expectant in every way.  It’s not enough that we’ve done this for databases.  We have to have this networked mindset in our OPACs, in our reference/help desk interactions,  in library instruction, and in technical services.  But,  and here’s my thing — we, as librarians, won’t even begin to make strides with our users needs, if we don’t also address the way we function in own inter-organizational environments.  Public service librarians get this, I think because they deal with users and this networked mindset as an ongoing part of their daily interactions with users. But the tech services people — the ones who are going to improve the systems that make that easier —  are a slight step removed from that user and because of this, I think, lack the urgency that I speak with about this.

This is also a tough sell.  Tech services think I mean that using something like a wiki might improve their understanding of users because its new and our users like to use new things.  And, frankly, they just don’t think its worth it.   But it goes deeper than being new. It’s the reason it is new — because it’s a new way of thinking.  Being willing to use something like wikis (or other new networked tool) has the potential to change the way we think in ways that make us think more like our users whether you ever come face to face with users or not!  And I think tech services could see the value there.  If only we could make a live connection!

A link to the option to download the full report (or the brief) is here

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