Panic! at the library

13Jul08

Stephen Cohen at Library Stuff referenced an article in the Washington Times about the SLA conference in Seattle that I just attended.  The author was (apparently) surprised at how far librarians have moved from being custodians of books to full fledged geeks.  As I read the article, I started to hyperventilate. I wasn’t at any of the sessions the author described. Should I have been? How am I going to stay on top of my field?

Then, I took a deep breath into a paper bag (just kidding, at least about the paper bag), and remembered, when it comes to technology, I’m way ahead of most of the members of my firm, with the exception of the IT department. Besides, my lawyers don’t really want to know about technology. They just want to know how to be more efficient at what they do. And the older ones could care less about how to use technology.

Still, it’s important that I keep abreast of current trends, and figure out what exactly is a trend and what’s a fad. Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world, like when I can complete a research assignment in 10 minutes, because I know exactly which databases to use. Then other times I feel like I’m so far behind I’m hanging on to the turnip truck.

Brenda feels that “our job as information professionals is to interpret the technology for our clients. We can’t assume people are knowledgeable as ‘digital natives’ nor should we assume their skill level is that of a ‘digital immigrant’. The average person is somewhere in between. They can send an email or find books or movies on Amazon, but figuring out how to use the DVD player is sometimes another matter.”  This is so true –  I often ask my kids to just tell how to use a device, don’t make me read the manual! 

Brenda continues: “As a library professional, I keep up on trends. I don’t have the energy to know every tool and its function. But I can tell you what Second Life is, although I am not a member with an avatar. I scan my reading for major companies, libraries and information professionals who have a Second Life presence … Trends always change and I try to keep on top of software tools. Today, at work, I went to pull books off the shelf to photocopy. Then I remembered a commercial database that provides PDF copies all ready to go. Instead of pulling a book, filling out a copy centre form, and waiting for physical copies to be made,  I quickly selected the pages I wanted, and sent it to the printer and saved the client an hour’s wait. I could have done it the old-fashioned way, but my client was happy to get a high quality product in a lot less time.  My colleagues in the health care field would say I’m using ‘best practices’, that is, using the most innovative way to get the job done, rather than relying on tried-and-true methods.”

I think Brenda’s points are well taken. Keep on top of what’s new, but don’t feel like you have to implement everything. Read the blogs of those people who are demoing new technology, and get a feel for what they like. Some of it I may choose to introduce to my users, but most of it will go by the wayside.

And keep that paper bag handy!

~ Karen

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