Guest post #9 – Library services: Library buildings, by Kate Millin

I will start by looking at how online services will be provided. None of us know how far technology will have moved in 10 years, but it is a certainty that it will be even more embedded into our lives than it is now. This is particularly important in relation to the information services that library and information professionals provide ( I will use librarian and library as shorthand for the rest of this think-piece).

As more and more information is available in, and only in, electronic format the emphasis of the roles that library staff of all types will carry out will change. It has been said more information does not mean better information. There will still be a need for library professionals to help people find what they want, in a format they can use and at the time they want it…. I have heard something like that before. It does not, however, mean that public libraries need to set up as many different ways of finding this information as there are library services.

My first vision statement for library services in 2022 is that ‘access to online information is facilitated through one online portal that is contributed to and supported by customer facing staff (and other professionals, customers, volunteers they have helped to become fully information literate) with personal support available wherever and whenever it is needed.The content and design of this portal will be managed by library information professionals working closely with their ICT colleagues (who are the experts on the systems that can be used to access content) using a range of the latest electronic technologies available. Where more local information is needed it will be provided by linked in subregional contributors which are professionally mediated.” 

So what does that mean for the library building in the community? My second vision statement for library services in 2022 is that “there are local library places where people and communities can access a range of books, information and other services in the format and style that they are most comfortable with using. They will be flexible/ dynamic spaces with a range of local services accessible and space that can be used for local community activities. They will also let people meet virtually with others from the region, country and world (and space?). Some will have regular professionally qualified library staff, some will have immediate electronic access to professional support – some of which would be holograms who can interact as if the librarian is in the same place.”

When I am talking about professional library staff  I am referring to staff who operate in a professional way providing effective library and information services who are trained and supported by professionally qualified librarians. These librarians can actively use and apply their skills to support all people and communities in a non-judgmental, inclusive and supportive way.  In this world the description librarian will describe people who are excellent at finding, organising and disseminating information resources, they will also be excellent at helping people to gain confidence in finding information for themselves and always there to help those who are not confident, do not want to , or cannot manage by themselves. Even if the country has managed to reduce the percentage of people who are illiterate and not IT literate that helping hand will still be needed.These are skills we are already using as librarians (and I am a Chartered Librarian myself in case you are interested) and will always be needed. It is the arena’s in which we use them that will change and develop.

Kate Millin is the Black Country Library Services Project Manager and the ideas here are purely her personal views. @Kate_Millin
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4 Responses to Guest post #9 – Library services: Library buildings, by Kate Millin

  1. Martyn says:

    While it is important to plan for the expansion of information in electronic formats, it is also important that information is not only provided in electronic formats to the exclusion of printed materials. Many libraries have already ‘slimmed down’ their printed reference stock in anticipation that everything can and will be available online – when in fact it isn’t, and (of course) many people do not have access to or are uncomfortable using electronic formats only available via a computer. It is a noticeable contributing factor to the drop in library use among certain age groups.

    Secondly I am concerned that the description of a ‘library building’ does not include the very specific requirement that all libraries should have adequate quiet study space. If libraries cannot provide space where people can use their resources, they are not doing their job properly. I would also like to sound a note of caution that the accessibility of local services and space for community activities is not at the expense of the provision of a full range of library services, space for library services including study space, and staff to provide library services.

    My third comment relates to staffing, because I believe the public need and deserve well-trained library staff at every level – and I’m not convinced that a combination of remote staffing and holograms can really replace local staff with a good knowledge of their own library, their own community and their own local information environment. What would benefit the public, however, would be for staff to develop specialist subject skills, so that the knowledge and experience in particular subject areas can be used across the whole local authority area – it is in the provision of specialist subject knowledge that remote staffing can best support their readers.

  2. Liz at Libro says:

    I very much like the mention of providing information in ways that people find comfortable: it is so important to remember that not everyone is IT literate, or wants to be. When I worked at a library supplier, we had to be aware that not all of our customers had the cutting edge technology that we were providing services to work with, and keep our offerings broad to take all such users into account.

    You’ve got an ex-librarian interested in library futures again!

  3. Kate Millin says:

    Thank you to Martyn and Liz for your comments, I am glad to have prompted you to want to comment, and to have got you interested in library futures again Liz.

    Martyn, my expectation is that the library places would have the spaces that the local communities need and want. This could mean the quiet areas you refer to, and the physical books that people need – although we do not know what formats they will be available in in 10 years time. If you are able to go to some existing libraries who have a range of partners working with them they usually complement each other and do not take away the library space as library space. I obviously did not write very clearly when describing my view about the staff. I agree with you about the need for well trained staff at every level – that is a large part about what makes excellent libraries excellent. My holograms were to give the specialist support. Thank you for the response and the opportunity to expand on what I have said.

  4. If the hologram is good enough you won’t know its a hologram (unless it’s a very small Princess Leia who keeps saying “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”) And won’t future technology mean that you don’t have to be IT literate to use IT? There needs to be a seamlessr link between the big ‘central’ library which inspires and enables because of its size and scope and the smaller, accessible community library.

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