Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading Devices as Rolexes for Readers

Passing through several airports over the last few weeks, I noticed more e-readers than I had ever seen before. I'm not sure if this is because e-readers are particularly useful when traveling, or if they are becoming more common, but they seemed to be everywhere I turned.

I still don't have one myself, and I can't think of a reason that would prompt me to buy one. As I think about the reading I'd like to do this summer, I don't see how having an e-reader would improve the experience. For example, I'd like to tackle Moby Dick for the first time, but I think if I had an e-reader I would get sucked into other, more seductive reading. I'd like to catch up on some back issues of The New Yorker and The Atlantic, but I can't see how a tablet would make that any faster, and the paper versions aren't that much of a hassle to carry. It would be nice not to have to lug so many children's books around, but I don't want to replace those with a device at this stage. Maybe if I was going on a week's vacation and wanted to take 15 beach novels, a tablet would help. Maybe if I wanted to call attention to what a big reader I was, I could embrace an e-reader. But for lack of these reasons, I think I can hold off.
And I can't help but wonder, are these devices going to succeed commercially for reasons related as much to social class than functionality?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Library, the Word

I stepped outside of libraryland this past weekend, on a trip out of state. It's always interesting to hear the reactions of strangers when you tell them you're a librarian. This time I got a sympathetic "Oh, I have an iPad now, so I guess we won't need libraries much longer," which made me grind my teeth a little, and it got me thinking about the average perspective of what the word library means. Of course libraries have power users, and libraries also have patrons who look for librarian assistance with absolutely everything in their lives, but what about the average person? Does the average person truly think that thanks to Apple, there is now no need for a library?

Since before I became a librarian, libraries have been in transition, yet the word endures. (To put this in perspective, the library in my high school was called a media center.) In some ways this is to our advantage, in that we don't have to introduce people to what a library is or do a hard sell to convince them to use it. Or do we? Because in a way, people have a very definite idea of what a library is, even if that library they imagine doesn't really exist anymore. We're still using the term, even if it's inaccurate. What to do?

The obvious recourse is to delete the word library from the vocabulary -- fine, iTunes, it's all yours! -- and call ourselves something else. It's time for a clean break: There are too many associations and assumptions held by the average person about what a library is and what it is not. But then we are faced with the question that has stumped better minds than mine: What replaces the word library? For all of the library traditions that blind us to new possibilities and directions, there are also some that are worth keeping as we move forward. A commitment to service is one, and so is a focus on users' needs. A methodical approach to collecting and grooming relevant content is another. So, what single word is descriptive and short and doesn't imply stacks of musty scrolls? Suggestions are welcome.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Projects: Wishlist and Actual

The college recently switched to its summertime four-day work week. This means that the library is now closed Fridays through Sundays until August, and that the Monday through Thursday work days are extended. Summer academic semesters are in session, but the campus is a lot quieter than usual. As I adjust to the schedule change, I remember that suddenly there is time for reflection and planning during these longer days.

And as I get older, I am becoming more appreciative of planning. Not to be unpatriotic, but I am getting weary of the short-term thinking that accompanies experimentation and innovation. And if librarianship is going to exist for the long term, and not be supplanted by the Internets, it is a good idea to invest in long-term strategy. Each library is unique, and this will echo much of what is in the professional literature, but here are areas that that seem important to the future of academic librarianship from where I'm sitting:
  • Information technology. No kidding, right? I'm referring to the ways technology is adopted institutionally, rather than the fads that come and go. This means that collaboration with those who work on the systems is crucial. 
  • Distance learning. (I am still trying to figure out why instructional designers didn't think it was important to fully integrate our online resources and services into the online classroom.)
  • The publishing ecosystem. Most companies that distribute online resources seem to be ignoring the library model in favor of one-on-one relationships with customers. This is not just bad for libraries, but ultimately bad for customers who are prevented from sharing.
In an attempt to match the above, here's what I'm putting on my to-do list in the near term:
  • Codecademy seems like a good way to spend some hours in my office; so does testing our EDS, which is scheduled to be live for the fall semester. Also, I *still* need to learn more about our ILS.
  • There is a WebStudy conference at the end of June. Even if I can't go, I'll be paying attention.
  • It's really time to educate myself about what the Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, etc. can and can't do for staff and patrons, particularly on campus.
  • (I would like to include Open Access here, but I can't figure out what I should be doing personally, and there are already plenty of other librarians involved, so I'll leave it to them for the time being.)
I have a feeling summer will pass too quickly!