Magazine article Information Today

The New Challenge for Librarians

Magazine article Information Today

The New Challenge for Librarians

Article excerpt

The New Challenge for Librarians Inside, Outside, and Online: Building Your Library Community by Chrystie Hill Chicago: American Library Association, 2009 ISBN: 978-0-8389-0987-4 175 pages; $48, softcover

What place do librarians hold in today's dynamic society? Many information professionals ask themselves this very question. In fact, it can get depressing. All the changes in how people are finding in- formation and doing research are diminishing some of the librarian's traditional roles. Perhaps we need to step back a little and examine where li- brarians fit into the One way to look at the issue is to view librarians as a social force. And that's what author Chrystie Hill focuses on in her new book.

Hill, a librarian, writer, and consult- ant, worked at the Seattle Public Library and founded It Girl Consulting, a com- pany that helps libraries use online tools to build online communities. Since 2003, she has worked at WebJunction, where she is currently director of community services. In 2007 ,Library Journal selected her as one of its Movers and Shakers. Her writing and her professional activi- ties reflect her passion for the social and community aspects of libraries. While she is sophisticated in her knowledge of technology, she always emphasizes that it is a means to an end. It isn't the be-all and end-all of libraries, and we shouldn't get stuck there. "[L]ibrary staff seemed more concerned with fixing their print- ers and arguing about why users didn't find us as relevant as Google than they were with imagining the incredible op- portunity before us: to lead and facilitate the content creation and discourse of our communities and constituents," she writes.

What Went Wrong?

In discussing the relationships that libraries have with their communities, Hill starts with what has gone wrong in the past. In general, people don't use all of the resources that libraries have available, and they still associate libraries strongly with books (and not much else). In addition, she points out, "[W]e've neglected to consider, in general, the social life of documents ... we neglected to nurture, or at least to articulate, the very social nature of our own roles." In preparation for this book, Hill and her colleague Steven Cohen contacted hundreds of library staff members to ask about their community-building efforts. This research showed many common practices, which Hill and Cohen divided into five types: assess, deliver, engage, iterate, and sustain. The remainder ofthe book (from Chapters 3 through 7) focuses on these issues.

Assessing users and their needs is a great place to start building community. We must know our users (and nonusers) to know what services to provide and how to market what we have. A communityneeds analysis begins with a description of needs and wants. You probably do this informally, maybe even unconsciously, but a formal process can also be helpful. Look at the ways other libraries have conducted needs assessments and what they have discovered. Ongoing assessment will continue to refine our work.

Next, how do we deliver these services? What will the services be and where do the users want them? Hill states that this new view "requires a shift away from our understanding of the library as a resource that provides access to collections, materials, and other content for its own sake, and instead asks us to consider library services from the users' experiences." Our physical and virtual facilities may need changes to accommodate our users.

The Importance of Marketing

The next chapter discusses how we can engage people. …

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