The disintermediated librarian
I've worked in public libraries for over 25 years and have recently been reflecting on how much my things have changed.
A few weeks ago a customer phoned to ask about books on the Australian gold rush for her grade 6 child. Now, that kind of thing used to be unremarkable. It happened every day and probably multiple times a day. But in 2017, it was worthy of comment, because these kinds of queries are now so rare. Fortunately, we had some suitable books to put aside.
It got me thinking, though, just how much has changed. Nowadays I help more people with the self-serve RFID loans machines than I do dealing with information and bibliographic inquiries. Add wifi, printing, PC and device help, and I'm part of a tech support team more often than being a reference librarian.
The internet has largely disintermediated our role in the information seeking process. Our own self-serve initiatives, including web-based OPACs, self-serve reservation pick-ups, RFID loan and return machines with added EFTPOS facilities and ebook collections enable our customers to bypass human contact. Don't get me wrong, it's all good and necessary to stay in the game and be relevant, and (at least in theory) allows us to work on more interesting and high value outputs like programs.
Along the way I've developed and broadened my skills to do things that we hadn't dreamt of back in 1990 when I got my first library job. Things like maintaining a library website and running a library's social media presences.
Recently I was ruminating on such things with my Jump Start colleagues and commenting on how much the job had changed and pondering what reference queries librarians will handle when the pre-digital demographic has passed on.
Fellow Jump Start support team member, Catherine Hainstock, had an illuminating response (quoted here with her permission):
An interesting question.
And one that as a teacher librarian has crossed my mind too. Many students think they don't need help searching (they will rarely ask for assistance) and yet when I work with them they often: 1/ cannot generate an adequate range of keywords for searching, 2/ become frustrated or give up when the results are not immediately available (often because of no.1) and 3/ are not very discriminating in the selection of their sources of information.
Which gets me thinking that our information skills not only need to keep pace, but need to be used to educate folk on how to seek, find and evaluate. But how to do that when you're already disintermediated?