The DIY Patron: Rethinking How We Help Those Who Don't Ask

Article excerpt

Like many librarians, I was a frequent user of libraries as a child. Yet I have always avoided asking for help. I wrote an entire undergraduate thesis without talking to a librarian. If I didn't understand something, I'd find a way to figure it out myself.

For years, my experiences fueled my desire to make the reference desk more approachable. There's considerable research on library anxiety, and many people see libraries as places with lots of rules they don't understand. I still believe in the value of making the library more user-friendly, but I don't think approachability is the only reason people aren't using reference services.

Like me, many people simply want to figure things out for themselves. And when there's something about the library they don't understand, they won't go to the reference desk. They'll go elsewhere.

Last year, Bohyun Kim, digital access librarian at Florida International University in Miami, wrote a thought-provoking guest post at ACRLog (bit.ly/rq0oHS) arguing that the emphasis librarians still place on mediated models of service is misguided and may be moving us toward irrelevance. While I believe that reference and instructional services should still be at the heart of what we do, the idea of rethinking our services in light of the DIY mindset spoke to me.

Kim is right: Many library services are based upon a model that no longer exists. In an environment of information abundance, librarians are no longer gatekeepers of valuable bits of information and databases that cost us dearly for each search. Yet our reference services are based on an environment of information scarcity.

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This is not a call to decrease our focus on instruction but to look at how we can support DIYers at their points of need in using library systems that are frequently not user-friendly. So many libraries have created tutorials, but most simply put learning objects on a "Tutorials" page and call it a day. …

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