I was talking to someone today about their local library. She was talking about how she could go into a library now, pick up books from the reserve shelf, check them out with the self-serve and leave the library without having talked to a staff member. And the thing about it was, she wasn’t all that happy about it.
“I remember going into the library and talking to staff about books,”she lamented,”and taking the kids to story time. It was part of the whole library experience, chatting to the librarians. I know they still do storytimes, but I miss talking to someone.”
It makes me wonder, have we become handbots– well-meaning, helpful, but ultimately faceless and anonymous?
Librarians have traditionally been mediators between the user and information, facilitating and filtering information to the user. Over the last 15 years, libraries have tried to make that information provision seamless, through an online presence, through discovery layers to their resources and trying to be in the background as much as possible. And I don’t think this invisibility helped us in any way.
ALIA is currently running Australia’s Favourite Librarian competition, to be announced during Library Week. The librarians selected come from all over australia, from academic, school public and state and special libraries. My gut feeling was that it was largely children’s librarians who had been nominated. I created a Wordle cloud out of the nomination page (which not only provides who the librarians are, but their reasons for having been nominated) to get an idea as to the reasons for their nominations.
My gut proved me right! The words always, children, friendly, helpful, passion, dedication, reading , community, and love were quite prominent. From the wordle, it was the face to face interaction and the building of a relationship between the user and the library staff which were greatly appreciated and valued. It was also heartening to see that our knowledge was a reason for nomination :).
If we wish to be valued as a profession, we need to be more visible, and engaging with our our users. We need to be advocating our service and our profession to our councils, schools and our institutions. We need to be present in the library space, and not hiding in offices or behind desks. We should be making ourselves more accessible to those who need us, and more visible to those who employ us.
Please don’t be a handbot.