Library and Information Week is a big deal in library land. Lots of activities, posters and bookmarks mark the event, including the National Simultaneous Storytime which was held today.
The theme of Library and Information Week is ‘We find stuff’. We do. Librarians locate obscure quotes, how many sheep there are in China, journal articles, speeches, yellow books on volleyball (I kid you not, that was a real request) and lots of bookmarks which get left behind in books. I even found two tickets to the Big Day Out in a book (which I returned to the ticketing office and which were eventually returned to their original owners, after they came into the library frantic for them).
It is something we librarians take pride in, finding stuff, so much so that the journey becomes more interesting than the item we’re supposed to locate. Unfortunately, our users are much more interested in the book or information than our explanation of how we managed to track it down, and not only that, library users are finding stuff on their own.
Regardless of how the statistics are interpreted, reviewed and monitored, reference statistics (or statistics referring to information questions asked of librarians) are on the decline.
The Internet, digitisation of information and Google have democratised information- no longer is it necessary for librarians to be gatekeepers of knowledge. People can and do find things out for themselves, which is great- but if everyone can find stuff, where does that leave librarians?
Often a desk shift can be very quiet, save for requests to point out the toilet, or help with the photocopier/printer. The skill of the reference interview, considered traditional library work is one which is not in demand as it used to be. We’re still assessing resources and information, but if people are bypassing librarians and getting all they need from Google, what’s the point of doing all this?
The thing is, not everyone can find stuff, or find stuff well. Many librarians are experts in information literacy and devote their time to helping people help themselves through teaching them how to locate quality information from reputable sources. This takes place in school libraries, public, academic and special libraries across Australia and the rest of the world.
You also have specialists in children’s literacy and literature, conservators, digitization specialists, usability and accessibility advocates.
While the reference librarian may be a dying species, the profession is still tackling with information and users and how best to bring the two together.
Librarians- we do more than just find stuff.