Librarians Without Libraries – Library Camp UK

Another ‘blogging at speed’ disclaimer – This post is an attempt to capture some of the discussion that took place during a session at Library Camp UK. I hope I haven’t mis-represented anything that was said and I know I have definitely missed out some important points! Feel free to add info and thoughts via the comments. Views are not necessarily mine, except where indicated, but my attempt to show what we talked about as a group and the points people made. Now on with the post…

This session looked at how librarians manage when they don’t have a physical library building, and/or when they don’t usually deal with the people who use their services on a face-to-face basis. First up was the whole question of being invisible. Information services now rely so much on online resources, many librarians now find themselves managing electronic resources and dealing with queries via email, online chat and phone. Even when dealing with physical objects, the enquiries and responses may take place in the non-physical realm. This can create the problem of both the librarian, and the library/information services being ‘invisible’ to the user.

This generated a number of potential problems, summarised as –

  • Staff being invisible and forgotten even when their service is well used
  • Potential users not being aware of specific services that are available to them
  • The library/information services being seen as irrelevant by senior management, as they don’t occupy a designated physical space within the organisation
  • Branding – the work and resources of the service not being easily identified by users and senior management

There were a number of useful suggestions from the group to address these problems –

  • Clear online branding of all resources provided by the service
  • Identifying users who could advocate the services among their colleagues, e.g. in each department of an organisation, and act as a champion for the services
  • ‘Popup libraries’- using the hot desking idea that all you would need to provide the services are the internet, a laptop and a mobile phone, go and sit alongside users/groups of users and provide support in person so they get to know you and see how the services fit in with their needs.

The whole question of ‘what is a library?’ quickly came to the fore. There was general agreement that the building/physical space is not the service, but a general concern that for users, the library building is the way they identify the service. There as an interesting discussion about whether the word ‘library’ is a useful one or not. Against the term was the need to educate users about new types of information services that do now rely solely on printed books – here library was felt to be an old-fashioned term with associations that weren’t helpful in describing the work of the modern librarian. For was the general understanding that many users have of the term, that they woud know the kind of services they could expect (and/or we could educate them on the newer services and resources available) and that people in general see ‘library’ as having positive connotations and associations. The discussion expanded out onto Twitter, and I *think* the consensus was that we the term is a good one, all be it with the rider of user education on the newer stuff we do.

The session was a really positive session, despite the problem of being invisible, being ignored and being overlooked for funding! The ‘unseen librarian’ is often providing the latest services and dealing with new technologies and resources, and as such is a great group to keep an eye on, I think.