Monday, October 4, 2010

The Time Is Now

As some of you know, I am now working both as a public librarian at the Saranac Lake Free Library and as the academic librarian at the Malone Campus of North Country Community College. In both locations I do some standard run of the mill library stuff to help keep the library open and operating. Most of those tasks have to do with cataloging and keeping track of items in the collection both on the shelves and out on loan. I am also in the midst of a new weeding project. Needless to say while there is some overlap in what is to be found in both libraries the emphasis of the two collections is very different. And just like at the SLFL while I’m in Malone I assist people in their search for items. Although, here again the emphasis between the two types searches is very different.

At the SLFL most, but not all, of the reading is for enjoyment and recreation. At the Malone campus I work with students who are looking for articles and most, but not all, want non-fiction texts dealing with specific subjects. Recently, a number of students have come in looking for a specific number of sources for an assignment. Interestingly, they are required to find a number of online journal articles and a single book. That particular task requirement reminded me of when I had to find a number of different physical sources and one web based source for a class I took many, many years ago. At the time it was rather cutting-edge to be required to find an internet based source. I also remember that at the time I was very much intimidated and dismayed by the assignment.

A little while ago when I was still in Library School I purchase physical, hold in your hands and turn the pages text books. I also bought a couple of books that I had come across in different classes that peaked my interest. But the vast majority of the reading I did and the information I accessed was via web-based pdfs found in federated databases. Now, I am lucky enough to remember what it was like to hand search an actual card catalog. And I knew all about title, author and subject long before going to library school. It has occurred to me while assisting these students that many of them have never had that experience. It has also occurred to me that the requirement of finding one physical book to use as a source is not a bad idea. Since information can come in many different formats it is a good idea to be able to use different ways to find and recognize the information we seek. I will mention that I did use an electronic catalog to search for the book; mainly because the student wanted a readily accessible source right off the shelves here in Malone.

Thinking about the process afterwards it occurred to me that at some point in the future new students may no longer have that physical book requirement. It may be revised by an eBook requirement. It also occurred to me that at some point if an instructor does require the opening of a physical book it might be restricted to students working on advanced degrees. Just as today not every student has access to a Guttenberg Bible or a first edition of The Importance of Being Ernest in the future that may be the case or choice for all physical books. Clearly, you would not require a first year college student to do such a thing. Nor would you allow such an individual to touch such a valuable piece of education equipment when an eBook would do just fine.

But that’s for the future. Right now I did notice that there are a number of similarities between what I have done and what the current crop of students entering the library is doing. They are looking for something. They are looking for information and a means to access that information, just as I did with a card catalog or reserved article list. Now we use a host of technological tools to bring that information to our fingertips. The process of getting the information is now better then what it was in the past. I can reach further and faster. I can also access other librarians or educators and chat, comment, text or wiki about new editions and perceptions of an existing work. I also realized that I’m the product of multi-generational changes in information format, access and retrieval. I’m comfortable with each rendition, from books to eBooks or journals to pdfs. And I have to tell you that all of that change, all of that innovation is why when I’m asked I always say “Right now is the absolutely most exciting time in the last 120 years to be a librarian or to be a library patron.”

See you at the Library,

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