If you had to describe what libraries do in 8 words or less (because this fits on a business card, is a nice sound bite, can be remembered and repeated, and can be used in advertising etc) what would you say?
Why is this question so difficult to answer? Why are we not able to concisely and persuasively state what business libraries are in? We’ve been in the business long enough, why don’t we know by now? And why can’t we agree?
Alison Wallbutton wrote an excellent post about a month ago on the need for a collective conversation on what libraries are all about. Why is it so hard?
I think it’s because we’re looking for the perfect answer that encapsulates everything a library is, rather than the essence of what our customers want a library to be. So I’m going to give it a go.
I’d like to start by saying libraries are and can be lots of things. But they are nothing without librarians. Professionally skilled librarians. Librarians maketh a library, and you can agree or disagree in the comments (please do!).
With that being said, I don’t care so much about what business libraries are in, because I think that is a product of a more fundamental question: What business are librarians in?
Again, not an easy question given our diversity of roles and specialisations. But a customer doesn’t need to know this. All a customer needs to know is “what can a librarian do for me?” (Participants of my workshop will remember that a successful project solves a problem to the delight of the customer. :-))
Q: What can a librarian do for me?
A: Librarians find information that Google doesn’t.
The thought process behind this:
- It encompasses all library sectors.
- By naming Google, I’ve indicated who customers can compare us to and our point of difference. Whether we like it or not Google and Wikipedia are frequent destinations when customers are looking for information. Librarians are better than Google (or pedantically, Google users).
- Find information can cover the whole gamut from database searching, readers advisory, reference interviews, and lending desk enquiries.
- Find information also includes both an information literacy approach and providing answers to questions.
- Find information that Google doesn’t includes all non-digital resources that are held within our libraries and our communities.
You might ask how this soundbite applies to collection development, technical specialists and other librarians behind-the-scenes. A customer doesn’t care about the research or procurement process involved in manufacturing playstation or Google’s search algorithms. A customer doesn’t care what happens behind the scenes in libraries either. They’re only interested in the end result not what’s required to make something available.
So now it’s your turn. What do you think? Is this the business of librarians? How does this fit with what a children’s librarian does?