Changing the way librarians think about the future

Thomas Frey spoke at LIANZA14 recently,  I didn’t attend but if the tweets were anything to go by, the audience was distinctly underwhelmed. As one of them said, yes in the future things will be different.

I’ve just revisited an article by Brian Mathews called The librarian as futurist: changing the way libraries think about the future.  In it Brian doesn’t speculate on what is going to happen in the future but suggests that librarians should focus on how things could change by using scenario planning, being change literate and being comfortable with ambiguity.

Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas in his essay is around change literacy. For students change literacy is an advantage as they enter the workforce – being able to monitor information, identify strategic insights, apply and adapt ideas. For librarians it is an opportunity for us to move beyond keepers of information and even collaborators in knowledge production, to facilitators of change. Brian acknowledges this may seem out of place for us but he points out libraries have been role models for organisational change through what we have done with learning spaces, collection migrations and new literacies. Furthermore we would continue what we have always done, help simplify complexity, enrich information and generate ideas through conversation within our communities:

successfully embracing and enacting a future-orientated program will position librarians not only to demonstrate a capacity and comfort with change, but the ability and expertise to help others shape their futures as well

There is a  well what does it all really mean aspect to this term change literacy, and if you have other insights it would be great to hear about them. For Brian, libraries could fill a niche around gathering and synthesising information into insights, and devising future road maps:

In short, librarians could serve as futurists by providing strategic foresight support to aid success for our parent institutions.

Or as he also puts in librarians becoming practitioners of futurist knowledge creation.

In many ways this is not too far from some of the work that librarians do, particularly in special libraries, around monitoring future trends, and reporting on these. Or in this example where QUT Library looked at a trend report and created a new tool for customers.

I found some other gems in the article.

This point seemed particularly pertinent when we are thinking about our how we develop our services around research, teaching and learning. Do we really do enough of this?:

We should not concern ourselves with the future of libraries. Instead we should focus on the factors driving change within the communities we serve and partner with

And what would this look like, as we work towards ways to measure our impact and demonstrate how we deliver value?:

We are witnessing an interesting shift in the library profession toward more anthropological assessment measures – perhaps this will help us inject new thinking beyond the dominant quantitative mindset. When libraries served more as warehouse utilities, data-driven decision-making was crucial, but now as more of our work increasingly revolves around forming complex relationships and ongoing interactions, a more humanistic approach is required for growth and improvement

What do British business librarians talk about?

One of the blogs I follow is Libreaction – the blog of Andy Priestner (@Priestlib on twitter), who is Head Librarian at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. The first post of Andy’s I came across was about “the same old problem” of MBAs and library inductions (sounds very familiar!)

Andy has been reporting in his blog on the conference of the Business Librarians Association conference. The theme of the conference was ‘The Research Agenda’ – how we as librarians engage with researchers, how we meet their needs and how we can get more involved in research ourselves.

A lot of what has been reported is relevant to academic librarians as a whole, not just business librarians.

Some key ideas and themes have included:

  • information provision must be embedded, evangelical and evidence-based
  • in the future business librarians will move more towards promotion and dissemination of research and assistance with bibliometric impact
  • Libraries are truly and demonstrably important for research students, but that this value is still overlooked by stakeholders
  • Librarians don’t exploit published research enough – relying on experience and instincts
  • there are not enough librarians getting articles published in academic journals
  • Librarians are good at advocacy and measuring tangibles but less skilled at demonstrating value and impact to justify investment
  • we need to go to where researchers are and leave the library; engagement, outreach and empathy with researchers are all vital
  • staff at Newcastle University tweet new staff publications to demonstrate engagement with research community
  • impact is not just about marketing. We need to always be there in front of researchers. We should not be shy about library value
  • initiatives to engage with PhDs at one business  school (other than group inductions and the offer of research consultations – which weren’t utilised enough included:   a focus group, a PhD guide, a research seminar series (plagiarism, Refworks and getting published) and a poster campaign. Interesting to read that focus groups that offer payment and are facilitated by neutral (non-library) staff attract more participants. Engagement with research supervisors is key.  
  • focus groups offering food and vouchers attract more attendees
  • important to obtain feedback before and after implementing changes; that time investment in ‘extra’ work research projects pays off long-term.
  • Manchester business answers 24/7 which allows students to search for assistance on frequently asked questions and receive guidance on what resources and services to go to and how to use them. Apparently a BLA wide-project was mooted so that business librarians could offer the same resource without reinventing the wheel. A project team is already underway!
  • researchers are concerned that submitting research into digital repositories may impact on their chances for publication in academic journals – solution rebrand the repository as a “research tool” and better integrate it with internal information systems so researchers are engaged with it in terms of their workflow
  • repositories need champions at the highest level – Vice Chancellors need to be onside
  • technologically we are ready for repositories but culturally we aren’t (sounds like the perennial knowledge sharing dilemma)
  • repositories need to be Google Scholar compatible so hits soar
  • librarians need to build relationships with researchers based on openness and trust – and we need to get out of our libraries and go and talk to them in order to ensure their engagement
  • dissemination of research beyond journals and books is now required in order to prove research value and benefits –  Librarians should be involved in the process, ensuring researchers are briefed about where to publish their research in terms of journal rankings

Seth Godin on libraries

Seth Godin’s post on the future of the library gives us a useful insight into perceptions about libraries, whether we think he is right or wrong in what he says.  Sarah Glassmeyer has done a good job of unpacking it all on her blog.

And Kathy Dempsey’s comments (part of Seth’s posting) are right on the mark and worth reproducing here:

I’ve been in the library field for more than 20 years, and I think Seth’s proposal is off-base: “train people to take intellectual initiative.”
Libraries already have plenty of people willing & able to train others in how to do better searches, to be more information-literate, and how to use technology to its best advantage. One of the problems I see is that the public (be they students, community members, business people, etc.) do not want or value the help of librarians, who are still stereotyped as old-fashioned and not useful in the information age. Librarians have all this key knowledge but nobody wants to hear it from them. It’s not cool or smart to ask a librarian for help (especially if you’re a Digital Native). This could be at the core of our downfall. What I therefore see as a more important step is for librarians to fight and update their stereotype. People need to realize and understand their value. We need to get out of our own boxes and show leaders how smart and useful we are. Unfortunately, most lib employees aren’t good at this, and there are few out there who can teach them how to do it. This isn’t part of the library school curriculum. And once you’re in an day-to-day library job, you don’t have the permission, time, or money to find and take workshops that will teach this still. Many, too, don’t even want to put themselves out there. The old “people who need us will come to us w/o outreach” mentality is a threat to our survival. To sum up: the library field already has great trainers and thought leaders. But they don’t reach outside their own field, and on the rare occassions that they do, too few people find them worth listening to.

So here we are again.  Our challenge is to communicate the value we can offer, whether it’s through providing collective access to resources, or being intellectual leaders. The thing is, this challenge has been around for a few years now. My dream is that by the end of this decade (in fact way earlier than that!) librarians have this sorted – we have upskilled our profession about how we can use all aspects of the marketing discipline to enhance what we do, and we are experts at communicating our own value and that of all the resources we provide.

Wonderful world of blogs …

… or how am I going to keep up! So many interesting things to read, so little time …

Courtesy of the M Word a blog post on ACRL wanting a researcher to review the literature on the value of academic libraries with a view to providing “ACRL members with tools and strategies to demonstrate the value of academic libraries to their institutional leadership”. So this is very much along the lines of the emerging theme of measuring the impact of what we do-  as reported by my colleague Heather in her LIANZA conference blog. “Value” is an interesting concept, I have been talking about it lately but more in terms of building it into our promotional messages. Value in terms of ROI (return on investment) is another concept that libraries are starting to look at.

And also thanks to the M Word, I’ve discovered another blog called In The Library With The Lead Pipe Great looking blog, substantial posts, reference lists and lots of comments! Three very interesting posts for starters:

Stepping on Toes: The Delicate Art of Talking to Faculty about Questionable Assignments

Sense of self: Embracing your teacher identity

Outreach is (un)Dead