My main assertion about libraries, specifically public libraries, as they stand today, May 18, 2013, is that the way libraries fulfill their role in society is changing at an ever-increasing rate. Intertwined with this is the changing role that librarians serve within these public libraries.
First, let me define a Public Library’s role as it is being used for this portion of my blog. In the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition, Jennifer Arns (2009) describes the role of public libraries as “providing services intended to meet the social, educational, and recreational needs of the people residing in their service areas.” While I do not feel that this is an all-inclusive definition of a library’s role, I do feel that it does a good job of summarizing the three main areas libraries are set up to serve; those being social, educational, and recreational.
Traditionally, this role was, and in many cases still is, served within a physical space. This building, referred to as the “library,” houses all of the information and resources needed to fulfill the social, educational, and recreational role. The librarian has traditionally served as the person who connects the patron with the desired information or resource within this physical space. “Traditionally, librarian is known as a person located in the library building carrying out the tasks like acquiring, organizing, and preserving the printed documents besides helping the readers in locating the information needed for them” (Babu & Rao, 2001, p. 25). In their article Role of Librarian in Internet and World Wide Web Environment K.H. Babu and K. Nageswara Rao (2001, p. 25) go on to say:
In the last decades of the twentieth century this picture has rapidly changed under the influence of advances in computer and communication fields. The paper collections have given place to networked, computer resident, user searchable collections like bibliographic databases and Online Public Access Catalogues (OPAC) obliterating the need for the user to visit the library building.
While I do not agree that technology is obliterating the need for people to visit a physical location, I do believe that it changes the way libraries and librarians fulfill our traditional roles. So, in addition to technology, what is driving this change in the way we serve our role? Dianne Zabel (2005, p. 104) believes that shrinking budgets, demographics, and big box bookstores are factors impacting libraries.
Anyone who works closely with or for a library right now is well aware of impending budget cuts. These cuts impact us in numerous ways and have impacted many facets of libraries and librarianship. “These cost-cutting measures have included the following strategies: trimming hours, merging departments, consolidating service points, hiring freezes, the use of fixed-term appointments, and hiring entry-level rather than experienced librarians” (Zabel, 2005, p. 104).
The next factor driving change is demographics. While Baby Boomers, the post WWII generation, still make up a large segment of our population, people born after 1981 are considered the up and coming generation. This generation is known as Millennials. In her paper Marketing the Millennials: What They Expect From Their Library Experience Patricia Duck (2005) characterizes Millennials as “visually oriented,” “easily bored,” “very demanding,” and “used to having the best of everything.” So how does this translate to libraries? “She found that Millennials were more concerned with comforts (such as refreshments in the library), were knowledgeable about using Google but not necessarily knowledgeable about using library databases, and approximately half found library databases difficult to search” (Zabel, 2004, p.104).
I mentioned earlier that while I agree that technology is changing the face of libraries and librarians, I do not agree with the belief that this technology is obliterating the need for people to visit a physical library. Our users are viewing libraries as a place. Dianne Zabel (2005, p.104) states that “our users (especially undergraduate students) view our library as a place to meet and to use computers. People use our library as a gathering space.” Part of the reason for this shift is thanks to big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Zabel (2005, p.104) goes on to say that “our users want a pleasant and lively space with eye-catching displays of current books and magazines. They also want comfortable seating and want to be allowed to have food and drink.”
Based on my main assertion that the way libraries fulfill their role in society is changing at an ever-increasing rate; and that Intertwined with this is the changing role that librarians serve within these public libraries, comes my belief that libraries in the physical sense will continue to exist well into the future. Libraries will change and evolve along with the librarians working in them. In his essay Main Street Public Library: Study Challenges Traditional Assumptions About Libraries’ Roles in the Community (2011, p. 46) Wayne Wiegand sums things up:
My research had already proved that the introduction of pre-1956 communications technologies (silent movies before 1910, radio in the 1920s, talkies in the 1930s, and TV in the 1950s) had not affected patron desire for stories, evident in the circulation of popular fiction. By factoring in the newer forms these stories take in 21st-century media (CDs, DVDs, e-books, etc.), statistics on circulation demonstrate that all five institutions were busier in 2008 than 1956.
Change is not new to this field. It is something that has happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future. “Traditionally librarians have been information providers for centuries. They now have the opportunity to use modern tools to provide quicker, more complete, and more sophisticated service to the users” (Babu & Rao, 2001, p. 25).
When I reflect on Dr. Maatta’s assigned readings for Week One, one thing that stood out the most is how much we as libraries and librarians have already evolved. Change is inevitable and we must embrace it to move forward.
My assumption is that as the field of Library and Information Science evolves, physical library spaces will change. The number of physical library buildings may shrink due to budget cuts; the number of people working within libraries may diminish; the interiors may change to offer more creature comforts; we will all become more dependent on the technology housed within these spaces (and even the technology accessed from remote locations); but libraries and librarians will continue to exist. Because, after all, “Libraries are not important; they are essential” (Haycock & Sheldon, 2008, p. 3).
Arns, J.W. (2009). Libraries. In Encyclopedia of Library & Information Science (3rd ed.). Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=http://www.tandfonline.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/doi/full/10.1081/E-ELIS3-120045507#
Babu, K. H., & Rao, K. N. (2001). Role of librarian in Internet and
World Wide Web environment. Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 4, 25+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA205270115&v=2.1&u=lom_pls&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w
Duck, Patricia (April 2005). Marketing the Millennials: What They Expect From Their Library Experience. Paper presentation presented at the meeting of ACRL, 12th National Conference, Minneapolis.
Haycock, K. and Sheldon, B. (2008). The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Wiegand, W. (2011, September-October). Main Street Public Library: study challenges traditional assumptions, about libraries’ roles in the community. American Libraries, 42(9-10), 46+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA270283942&v=2.1&u=lom_pls&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w
Zabel, D. (2005, Winter). Trends in reference and public services librarianship and the role of RUSA: part two. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(2), 104+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA142636343&v=2.1&u=lom_pls&it=r&p=GPS&sw=w