The rôle of the library?

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Recently, I have been thinking about the policies and practices at our library (it’s policy review time, so this isn’t entirely unnatural). The following proposal has been made:

  1. NTNU Library will make relevant information for research and learning available via web-based services
  2. NTNU Library will strengthen NTNU’s learning environment by offering suitable spaces, and increasing users’ information literacy
  3. NTNU Library will ensure the long-term availability of materials produced at NTNU, and materials covered by special agreements
  4. NTNU Library will make its services known to all primary users

Previously, I perhaps wouldn’t have thought that there was very much here that was contentious, but I’ve recently been evaluating my work — we’re currently also analyzing the work of the subject librarians, to see how we can effectivize these positions. Point one isn’t really contentious because it isn’t going to be affected by anything we can do — the library is electronic, and it’s becoming more so.

Point two is actually two things: 1) the learning arena  and 2) increasing information literacy. I’ve been playing Godzilla recently by saying that I wonder if we aren’t trying to create a rôle for the library by being a “learning arena”, and that this rôle isn’t necessarily suited to the library, but belongs to the monolithic university. I don’t know that the library is the best place, and in fact I’m beginning to see that there is a conflict between the “library as space” and “provision of library services” in terms of administration and skills. The second element of this point, information literacy, can actually be baked into a point about a digital library as well — if not better — than a physical library: we have no realistic way of meeting every user face-to-face, but we can have good on-to-one coverage with digital learning (such as VIKO), and I believe that placing this point under a point that is implicitly about physical spaces is highly problematic.

Point three is potentially about at least two things: institutional archives and our rôle as regional legal deposit library. Neither of these point are really open for discussion as these are rôles assigned by the library and the government respectively.

Point four is really important: it is a real problem that the library is so invisible, the rôles that we acually have disappear, and our services are often unknown to our non-users. The problem is how do we make these services known? As I said above, we have no realistic way of meeting the users, but we do have a captive audience on our network. There are a lot of different ways of marketing our services, most of which will necessarily not include physically talking to users. Lets face it: no-one is interested in hearing about the library until they need information or help…and that is where we need to be accessible.

If this sounds like I’m beating down on the physical library, I’d disagree; I’m just questioning the validity of creating a new rôle for the library, when the rôle as “library” is still a valid one, its just that our format is changing, physical –> electronic.

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