Biblioteksdagarna -07: Re-thinking the role of libraries in the networked age

Re-thinking the role of libraries in the networked age. Tom Wilson, Professor Emeritus, University of Sheffield. Visiting Professor, University of Leeds Business School. Visiting Professor, Högskolan i Borås, Sweden.

How should libraries respond to the changes that the communication and networking society implies?
Tomas Wilson suggest that we try to adapt our library services to better suit the real needs of our users, by:

Being aware that we’re no longer only serving the local community, but the whole world
– anyone can reach us digitally and we need to be prepared

Being aware that we’re now on a much more competitive arena than before The world of leisure used to be small, but now it’s huge. The library and the books are just one part of peoples leisure options. Reading is in decline – in the UK, for example, in 2010 probably only half the amount of books will be borrowed compared to 1985

Realising that the use of Internet is exploding – There are now over a billion internet users in the world, as compared to just 16 million in 1996. The greatest usage explosion is currently in Asia:

Asia – 35,8%
Europe: 28,3
North America 20,9 %

Seing the social networking systems as only virtual networking
, systems not really social networking systems – being truly social implies face-to-face communication

Re-adapting the classical five laws of library science
– We should not retire from the new virtual networking society world but instead face the new realities readapting the classical laws of library science suggested by the father of modern library science S. R. Ranganathan:

1. Books are for use.
2. Every person his or her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The library is a growing organism.

Wilson suggest we re-adapt these laws to our networked society:

1. Info resources are there to be used
2. Univ access to info is a social necessity
3. every doc is of value to someone
4. To be useful, information must be delivered
5. (missed this one, sorry)

Learning from the Amazon experience – The Amazon model should be the future of the library catalogue but unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet. We still see bad examples of catalogues designed for librarians, not for users. Here Wilson exemplified by mentioning as one of the row of old school catalogues.

Realising that libraries basically are about people – not buildings
The catalogues should be improved to better suit the needs of our users by for example adding commenting, read-a-chapter-before-borrowing features, presenting information clearly and with book covers and images etc. Another example of not user friendly design was the website of the Library of Sheffield . A semiotic analysis of that webpage shows that the library is about buildings, not people. This is totally wrong. Libariers are about people not buildings!

Promoting library resources on social networking sites, like Facebook.
This may, in the long run, not be the proper way for libraries to promote themselves, though. Social networking sites are basically for teenagers and post teenagers with interests focused on sex, drugs and rock & roll. Maybe libraries should instead develop their own social networking sites? Thus we’ll be able to interact with ALL users, not only those who decide to join a specific network. (My comment: why not do both? Building our own social networking sites – like – AND be present on other social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn etc.?)

Improving our helpdesks. Instant Messaging can be a new way to interact with the user community. A trecent study, though, showed that in-person visits in the library still overshadows e-mail, phone, and IM reference. Wilson therefore recommends that we make aim at improving the former reference desks and convert them into modern and efficient helpdesks. Improving helddesks would be a better way to meet the needs of the users. (My comment: isn’t it also true that IM usage is exploding? That there are lots of potential library users out there that we should meet up with? Shouldn’t be be both were our users AND non-users are?)

This presentation has been video taped and will be available on the Biblioteksföreningen website from tonight. Watch it by following this link:

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