Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Library Closures - a Trend? Madness I say! Madness!

Human Resources library closure part of troubling trend - I'll say! For years, much has been written about information overload, challenges with personal information management, finding the "right" needle in the information haystack, the gradual transition information on the Internet from free to "for a fee." And now it appears that organizations are dismantling the very groups that are in the BEST position to have a significant, positive impact on knowledge worker productivity and quality of knowledge work.

Like many of you I'm sure, my love affair with librarians began with my very first contact. Faced with what I thought the insurmountable challenge of writing my first essay in what was known then as "junior high school," I tentatively took my first steps into that sweet space of learning called the Library. There I met the most wonderful person. Welcoming, supportive, inquisitive, brilliant, empathetic, and soooo knowledgeable, my first librarian inquiried about my objective, my challenges, my existing thinking, and helped me navitage through the thousands and thousands of books, magazines, newspapers to the best few relevant to my quest. And she also helped pinpoint specific pages/paragraphs of greatest value, and helped frame up my thinking and approach to the essay. Heaven sent! My stress immediately shrank like a deflating baloon.

Thus began the love affair that has lasted years and years through various educational institutions, public and corporate settings. Definitely a long term relationship that is even richer and deeper today.

I find a lot of people get "juiced up" about how social media and associated technologies are changing how we work in amazing ways. No denying that.  But we're still a long way from - a la Star Trek - saying "computer.. " and having magic happen. Sure, we can more easily build social networks that we can tap into. Sure we can have RSS feeds that send us gobs of content based on some general criteria from sources we choose.  Sure there are lots of blogs and other content sources we can surf. And sure, we can share tags, ranks and comments about the content. OMG can you say "MEGA OVERLOAD!"  Can you say "Information Armageddon!"

Most of us are NOT in the information management business (unless it's your hobby on your personal time). Our job is to do our job, which we can't do if we're spending too much time rifling through / filtering, deciding exactly what to use and learn from - of all of the information from all of the information channels at our disposal - for a specific task.  And do we not often lament that we don't actually have the time to find, and often don't have the access rights for, what we really need? And are the networks of people that we are ever more reliant on filled with people facing the same challenges with little time to help US out?

Is there not very significant value in having highly trained professionals who can:
  • continuously identify, qualify, broker, provide access / point to highly relevant information sources ranging from high-cost subscriptions to leading discussion forums / blogs and even internal information sources?
  • do some preliminary research and analysis to get you off on the right foot?
  • help you connect and dialog with people who share common interests?
  • anticipate what you need and make necessary provisions so there is no lag time between when you need something and when you can access it?
  • participate in and serve the immediate and emerging information / learning needs of the communities you belong to?
  • do the above with quality and timeliness and enthusiasm because it's their primary role?
At its most basic, we consume information and talk with others to learn.  In the context of today's information challenges, let's shorten the learning curve, not lengthen it!  Though the mechanics of the work is changing, we need MORE librarians, not less!

And maybe, just maybe, we all need lessons on how to better leverage this valuable resource.