Tuesday, September 12, 2006

OCLC survey: Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources

OCLC has produced a report, dated 2005, based on a survey of various nationalities' public perceptions of libraries and other information resources. The link in the title of this post takes you to the OCLC website to download the statistical analysis or purchase a print copy.

The Perceptions report provides the findings and responses from the online survey in an effort to learn more about:

* Library use
* Awareness and use of library electronic resources
* The Internet search engine, the library and the librarian
* Free vs. for-fee information
* The "Library" brand

The findings indicate that information consumers view libraries as places to borrow print books, but they are unaware of the rich electronic content they can access through libraries. Even though information consumers make limited use of these resources, they continue to trust libraries as reliable sources of information.

Building on the study, Drew Racine, at U.T., Austin, writes Bifurcate to Survive in American Libraries, Sept., 2006 issue, pages 34-35. In it he makes some radical suggestions, from his point of view as head of facilities planning and operations (I wonder if Roy Mersky has read this?). Some of these, some law librarians are already pursuing or at least discussing. Others may make you see red:

1. "Centralize books and spaces for users into one or two large, formidable-looking buildings" ... compact shelving at the core and wireless connectivity, electric outlets and comfy seating near the windowed periphery.

2. "Campus Rsearch Service Centers:" Trade in branch library spaces for small spaces distributed around bookstores, dorms, student union areas staffed with roving librarians with laptops and Ipods.

3. Stop spending to build research collections, and supply "books on demand" outside of special collections of record agreed-upon in consortial agreements.

4. Drop ILL borrowing and buy from Amazon.

5. Drop print journal collections and buy e-subscriptions or articles on demand.

6. Stop cataloging, and do a Google/Amazon style biblio-entry.

7. Rethink library websites; model them on Google with a simple search screen and no announcements or graphics. "Form should follow function. That single search box should search only those items that the library owns, has paid for access to, or that are available on the web..." Incorporate federated searching.

8. Hire staff ready to operate in a distributed, un-supervised setting, with high service orientation. They don't have to be library school graduates: "These staff might be graduates of schools of information, library and information science, business, sociology, communications, or other disciplines."

Finallly, improve individual accountability for carrying out responsibilities in order to achieve a just and effective organization. Too many libraries ... fail to follow through to correct the course when the evidence shows that individuals and units are not pursuing organizational goals effectively. We construct extra administrative and bureaucratic procedures and structures to deal with "problems" that could be avoided--or more likely would not even exist--if everyone (administrators, managers, all levels of staff) were held accountable to clear expectations.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen recommendations like this often, and while some are useful, others appear to be a bit short sighted.

1. When one recommends that libraries no longer buy print, I rarely see anyt suggestions for handling situations where the online vendor either goes out of business or jacks the price up so high it is too expensive. A print copy helps keep that information available to users, and in the very long run will allow libraries to scan and make that information available in future themselves.

2. Drop Ill borrowing - this would be useful only if it is cost effective, and even then - where do we put the books when space is already at a premium and being lost to internet cafes and "research service centers"? What's wrong with just getting better at sharing?

3. Stop cataloging and do a google entry. Any serious scholar will note that an extensive cataloging record, esp. for rare items is incredibly important. For newer items, it would be nice at least to have solid name/title authority records but that is being lost as well. Believe it or not, sometimes it is nice to know edition, publisher, size of book, and if it is hardcover or softcover. Metadata is imporant and needs to grow in an information rich environment, not diminish.

4. Hire non-library science professionals. Well, here is the thing: All librarians are information professionals. Not all information professionasl are librarians. Librarians have a 2300 year old history , and one that in this country includes being ad advocate for information to be easily and widely available, even controversial and secretive information. I do not think that creed will be found in business, law or communications schools.

5. And lastly, accountability. Very good. But make sure it goes up the ladder as well. Library directors, boards, and Deputy directors can make some large mistakes, and those are often far more costly than anything done at lower levels.