Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Failing to see libraries as a primary information source

George over at It's All Good posted this interesting piece titled "Public Use of the Library and Other Sources of Information". He compares two library-related reports and highlights the progress that libraries have made in the last 50 years:

What made me pay attention was this:
The biggest consistency has been in people failing to see libraries as a primary information source. Librarians have not been able to make the leap from being a storehouse of recorded information (books, magazines, videos, audios) to being an active partner in the information gathering and evaluating process. The ubiquity of the web is making it even less likely that a formal institution like the library, with all our rules, service policies, limited hours, and other historical baggage, is ever going to change that.

I believe George isn't talking about using libraries as primary sources, but considering libraries as one of the first few sources for information. The development of the Internet and search engines is part of the reason, I'm sure.

But there's something else, I think.

Call it "lack of publicity" or "lack of awareness". I prefer to call it "lack of mindshare". I define "mindshare" as "being present on a person's mental radar screen". Having mindshare doesn't necessarily mean they would have to use the library. It's enough that they consider it.

The problem is systemic in nature. There's no one single root cause, and requires a multi-prong approach to deal with many issues at the same time.

I can attest that even librarians sometimes don't see libraries as the primary source for information. One time I asked a colleague, who was planning an overseas holiday, why he didn't seek information from the library (like books and also ASK!) first. He said it just didn't occur to him.

Say, you wanted to buy a new computer, or a new digital camera. Apart from using the Internet and seeking the opinion of friends, would it occur to you to look up the library or ask a librarian?

What George suggest is for librarians to be active partners in the information gathering and evaluating process. I agree completely. I remembered this post I wrote where I mentioned about the "Friendly Neighbourhood Librarian", where I suggested that librarians should make their presence known and felt in non-library discussion groups and forums. Establish credibility and trust. Join in the conversations. Then you can start talking about promoting the library.


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