At the Ref Desk (1/22/20): Student came over this evening and thanked us for all the help we gave him. Nice. [more...]

Is Library Culture an Obstacle to Change?

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sun, 12/3/06 (3:14pm)

Educause Quarterly

When harshly criticized for the huge disconnect between his words and actions, Charles II defended himself by saying that the actions were his ministers's and that only the words were his own.

I was reminded of that quote when reading "Disconnects Between Library Culture and Millennial Generation Values" by Robert H. McDonald and Chuck Thomas" (Educause Quarterly, 23:4). The authors harshly criticize research libraries for not meeting the needs of their users due in part to a rigid adherence to "old values". This in turn leads to "fundamental disconnects" between libraries and their users in the areas of "technology, policy, and unexploited opportunities".

(more after the jump...)

Under "Opportunity Disconnects" the authors have this to say:

"Too often library culture reflexively condemns the new or little understood creative opportunity offering more flexibility and technological enhancement, creating an obstacle for opportunities either in technology or policy advancements."

My own reaction is a little like King Charles's: much of our technology is not our own. We might have great ideas on how to accommodate our users but the means of doing so may not be within our grasp -- even for larger institutions. We also don't own the law that determines how copyright is applied and what users can do with our resources -- also a criticism from the article.

That said, I'm only willing to pass the buck so far. it's beyond me how we let our vendors get away with such crummy user-unfriendly interfaces.

We made a big bruhaha when ALA went for those impossibly long URLs as part of their ill-fated website redesign. How many vendors make it easy to link to their articles? Why should linking to their articles be any harder than linking to this post?

Then there's what we can do on a personal level. It's just smart to keep an eye out for new developments in technology -- i.e. what the kids are doing -- and then, almost as a reflex, to think about how we can apply them to what we do as librarians.

Doing this shortens the time it takes for libraries to adopt innovations like IM or Facebook. And if such adoption isn't happening on a timely basis, maybe the incentives have to be adjusted.

These kind of approaches need to be written into library policy statements. Once they are, we'll be in a far better position to answer and accommodate criticism like those in this article.

(h/t LibrarianInBlack)