On reinventing reference libraries ...

A year or so ago, I had the pleasure of working with a great team of individuals on a SSP (system- wide strategic priority) project about the Future of Information Services.

FIS for short, this team focused on exploring trends and implementing ideas (IM reference for example) to help keep the library’s information services relevant. At the time a few of our staff also referred to this team as the “reinventing reference” team, but to me this title (which btw imho seems to have been a bit overused in library land) never seemed to fit properly.

[-- fast forward 14 months or so --]

I had completely forgotten about this annoyance until a former colleague sent me a few questions to answer for a visioning project his library system is working on. The questions he posed from the committee really made me think about this word ("reinvent") some more. Here's why ...

How and why have you reinvented yourself or your organization?

I don't think reinvent is the right word. I think of it more as "evolving" to keep up with the information and cultural shift that is already happening. Why? that's easy ... it's *imperative* to remain current and relevant.

As for me personally, I have always viewed "lifelong learning" as a personal pursuit and not a just a library mission moniker. It's a personal responsibility to keep up on trends and be as close to the top of my game as I can. And as public servant, it’s also an expectation and community obligation.

To me the word “reinventing” implies that the model is broken. I don’t think of "it" as being “broken”. But rather “it” (aka, libraries, information services, etc) need to adopt evolving philosophies and practices that ensure they remain relevant.

On a similar note, was also this question -- which makes me wonder that perhaps, sometimes, we really don't ask the right questions …

Do you feel that products and services are determined by need, or do people develop needs based on products and services available?

Hmm... this is loaded question which to me seems based upon some assumptions. It's like the chicken and egg - which came first? The answer lies not in the choices themselves, but rather in realization that products and services are an *evolution* of the constant adjustment to changing customer needs. As users become more savvy and sophisticated (because of their exposure to better products and services) their expectations change and mature and it starts the growth cycle all over again. "

How about you… do you think “reinvent” is the right word we should be using with reference in libraries to talk about the cultural shift and changes in customer expectations that are affecting us? Or is there a better concept than "evolution" to hang this conversation on?


The Blograrian said...

Hi Helene,

There's still plenty of old fashioned reference going on and needed. We're just the combining traditional (book and catalogue) solutions with the mod-cons (online databases, Googling, email and instant messaging). The same basic skills are still required, but they are being expanded to include a broader range of resources. To me, this is evolution.

Glenn, aks harps the blograrian

Lori said...

Going along with Glenn's idea of evolution...we need to be sure to market and advertise our evolving reference skills and services. I'm seeing two kinds of customers...those who see the library as a place to use computers and those who see the library as a place for books. What we need to do is reach out, in a different way, to each of those customers and advertise our other services.

The Blograrian said...

To follow up on what Lori said, a library can be an awfully lonely place once the PCs logout 10 minutes before closing. We have plenty of members who are regular PC users but never borrow.

There are also customers whom you refer to a reference book in preference to an online database or web search. It depends on what they might feel more confortable with or ask for.

Both us and our customers have more options. We just have to stay up with the game.