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May 17, 2006

Joan Frye Williams

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending two presentations by Joan Frye Williams for the AZLA College and University Libraries Division. Overall, they were very engaging, entertaining and relevant. I’d certainly recommend anyone who has a chance to attend one of her sessions to take it!

The first session was entitled “The Indispensable Librarian.” Joan talked about how librarians cannot compete with the likes of Google; a fight we can’t hope to win. Instead, we need to concentrate on our strengths, and she gave a list of “Indispensable Attributes:”

  • 24/7 Convenience – librarians need to put quality in convenience, but remember that convenience is king. Websites need to be viewed as a complete library branch, show a list of situations, not a list of resources. We need to get out of the library and take the library as a “pop-up space” wherever our customers (she called them “civilians”) are.
  • Self-Directed Service – remember that every directional question is a failure to the user: simplify wayfinding, advertise it as a timesaver/FAQ/Shortcut, reduce clutter. Provide a natural language catalog. Too many desks-they should be service oriented, not function oriented. Reflect new services on the library’s exterior (such as a banner), more important to rotate information on the website than to post everything possible there just in case. People are more comfortable asking for help when you’re standing and doing something easy and brainless – that’s why staff are asked so many questions while shelving. Push out resources that are timely and relevant. Offer to check students’ work when they’re done, review bibliographies, etc. Show that librarians are not just there to dispense library resources.
  • Services for Hunter-Gatherers – we are only one place they go for information. “Just in case” collection model will soon be obsolete, replaced by search engine-crawlable vendor databases. The library interface needs to be where the user is working (see Denver Public Library), have a virtual “pop up space”. Users don’t want to learn a new interface just for the library.
  • Participation in the “Real” Virtual Community – need to have more outreach, be findable, push out information, go where the action is. This is a good one “it is more useful to participate and contribute to civilian blogs than to expect them to read OUR blogs.” Every library should have a Wikipedia entry, if nothing else than to point people to our sites. Allow personalization and recommendations- personalization adds value to our service. Example: http://movielens.umn.edu –confidential and personal.
  • User-Driven Priorities – very similar to OCLC’s Perceptions report. Libraries need to be more hospitable to our customers, work to make them successful, show we care. She suggests “find out how many times our staff have to say ‘no’ to a customer each day.” Why? She says desk-based reference is dead, that no other profession puts its professionals on the desk, that is sabotaging our authority and expertise. Reference should be proactive, virtual, in social networks, by appointment, on call instead of at the desk, be “Extreme Googlers.”

She wound up by saying that the library should not only be the center for academic learning but also for free-choice learning. I particularly enjoyed this presentation. The second one was on “Matching Innovations to Environment” which was also interesting, but mainly talked about different library environments and how best to package your innovations to gain approval from management/peers.

The last thing that these sessions made me think about was the emphasis that is being placed on our front line services and how they affect our users. While I think this is important for everyone working in libraries to remember, including those in Technical Services who don’t have much contact with the end user, I also think it’s important to remember how much the back-end work in Technical Services makes the front end possible. Innovation that is not obvious to the user but allows library professionals and staff to do their jobs more efficiently is still benefiting the user in profound ways.

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