September 7, 2011
All of this is written from a public library (and youth services) perspective. Academic librarians, special librarians, archivists, and other library folk may see things differently.
A couple weeks ago Ashley Barrineau posted on yalsa-bk about a new website called Story Snoops, which “offers children’s book reviews from a parent’s perspective” (although in their FAQ, they clarify that they do not advocate censorship: “Our website is a resource for parents to seek out or avoid specific content in a book, and to facilitate valuable discussions with their children.”). They also offer book lists and readalikes.
I’m happy to have a new tool to use in helping young readers and their parents find books (and another tool to teach them how to find books), but I have to admit that I’m really bummed that Story Snoops wasn’t created by librarians. This is what we do–so why aren’t we doing it? (I suppose the KDL What’s Next Database comes close, but it isn’t as user-friendly as Story Snoops is.)
I’m not trying to say that non-librarians shouldn’t be allowed to talk about books, write reviews, create book lists, or suggest books to one another. And, of course, it’s not just librarians who organize information. But I do think we need to be librarians more obviously as a way of keeping libraries on people’s minds and reinforcing our image as specialists.
I want to see librarians creating user-friendly tools that help people fulfill their information needs generally (and in this case, provide readers’ advisory specifically). Tools like this (and BookLamp) not being created by librarians is fodder for the “why do we still need libraries” people–not that I think these tools actually threaten libraries, just that we need to keep ourselves in people’s mind as experts. We need to be librarians outside our libraries, and librarians to everyone, not just to our patrons. Libraries are local, but the Internet is worldwide. We need to be visible online because it provides us with an opportunity to be library advocates to nonusers.
I don’t have firsthand, lived experience with with what libraries were like before the Internet (or before computers, even), but I get the sense that we were specialists. We were the ones who understood the more-complicated-than-you’d-think principles of categorizing and classifying information. We were the ones who understood how to find difficult-to-find information. We were the ones who were experts in literature and in finding the right book for a reader.
But now there is tagging and crowdsourcing and Google and “everything” being online and other sources for finding books. And none of that is bad because it puts people in touch with the information that they want and empowers information seekers who know how to use those tools. But does it erode our claim at being specialists (and professionals)? If Google can put “everything” at your fingertips and keyword searches make finding what you’re looking for so simple and a team of dedicated, book-loving moms create a tool that helps you find your new book, what are librarians still around for?
I guess I’d argue that we’re still specialists because we have an eye for information that automated tools don’t. We are the ones who help you sort through the dross Google turns up when you search for something. We are the ones who show you how to go beyond keyword searching when you can’t find what you’re looking for. We are the ones who can say, “Yes, this is a great resource, but look, this tool recommends Because I am Furniture for tweens, and maybe that’s not the best suggestion.”
But are we doing these things in a noticeable way? We are for individual patrons when we help them, and we are when we talk to each other about these issues, but what are we doing to show non-library goers that librarians are worth having?
We need to take this specialized expertise, this domain knowledge, outside of the library. We need to harness what we know to create tools that non-library goers will use. By being specialists publicly, we prove the worth of libraries and librarians.
Why aren’t Story Snoops and BookLamp created by librarians? Do librarians lack the technical knowledge to build tools like this? Or is the intersection of “literature specialists” and “tech specialists” too small? Are we unwilling to do library-related things when we’re not on the clock at work? What’s keeping us from putting librarians and libraries in people’s faces?
We need to identify and overcome whatever hurdles there are so we can prove our worth and defend ourselves as specialists. We need to be librarians–and specialists–more obviously, more publicly.
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