Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emporia State University

Emporia State University welcomed new president Dr. Michael Lane with a week of inaugural activities. The first day was sponsored by the ESU Library and the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM), and I had the honor of speaking at the last event. I was asked to post my speech, so here 'tis....

Emporia State University 3.26.07
William Allen White Library, Room 319F
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

A Vision of Libraries, Technology and the Future

I. Introduction

It is my honor to speak to you today during the inaugural week for Dr. Michael Lane. Dr. Lane has had an impressive career and I believe ESU has a bright future as he takes it to the next level of service and achievement in higher education.

One thing you will discover about Kansas, Dr. Lane, is that its residents are readers and they love their libraries. In fact, Kansas has the fifth highest usage of public libraries in the United States. Many, many communities across the state boast of a public library, and of the 327 in Kansas, 80% are in towns of under 2500.

I am not an academic librarian, but Kansas has some of the best academic libraries in the nation. I have great respect for the library professionals at ESU, and great respect for the School of Library and Information Management. This school has turned out some of the finest librarians in the United States.

My background is in public, system and state libraries, and I started my career in 1976 at a small public library in rural Iowa close to where we farmed at the time. I think back with fondness at the simplicity of providing library service there. It was a very small library; I knew all of my patrons; and I could report any discipline problems directly to the parents.

Today I would like to talk about how things have changed since I became a librarian; discuss some of the challenges that libraries face today, and the opportunities that we have. I’ll offer ten suggestions for change as we explore what is at stake in the 21st century for libraries.

II. Library challenges today

Library service in the 21st century is not as simple as it was in 1976, and librarians face many more challenges.

· One challenge we face today is relevancy. In 1976 we rarely, if ever, heard anyone ask whether libraries would continue to be needed in the future.

But in the past ten years we’ve heard that question a number of times as computer and internet technology has become more sophisticated and internet search engines like Google more prevalent. Why should we support libraries, some ask, when everything is on the web?

We need to ask ourselves whether these opinions have any validity. Could it happen that libraries fade away? Could it happen that libraries become part of the romantic history of the United States…a nostalgic relic, like the family farm, that is as much folk lore as reality?

There are certainly some indications that that could happen.

· For example, it is not as rare anymore to hear of a school library being closed down. I am astounded that despite all the well- executed studies proving the connection been school libraries and student achievement, we are regularly hearing about k-12 libraries being downsized and/or phased out.

· Another indication is the economic pressures being put on libraries of all kinds. Spiraling periodical costs, computer equipment that is out of date within three years, offering materials in many different formats…the list goes on and on. In public libraries there are some that are hanging on by a shoestring financially, and directed by staff that are paid less than the kid working at burger king. And I believe that this is the last generation of librarians who are willing to work for few or no benefits and low salaries. And those librarians are the only reason that many rural libraries in this state are able to keep their doors open.

· Our buildings are another challenge. Unless your library was built or remodeled within the last 5 – 10 years, it is not equipped to handle the needed technology. A letter to the editor in the Lawrence Kansas newspaper last fall voiced the opinion that public libraries are inefficient and not the right space for the service. I do wonder if he wrote that letter as a deliberate provocation as the newspaper published rebuttals for three weeks after his letter had been published.

· 30 years ago there was little if any discussion on digital books and I certainly heard no talk about the book as we know it being phased out. As librarians we used to be comforted by the thought that not all books are on the web, but that may not be true in the future. A few years ago a prominent librarian predicted that it would take roughly 300 years to digitize everything in libraries. That was before Google began digitizing library materials at lightening speed.

Do all these indications mean that libraries are on the road to extinction? Anything is possible. Do we have to go down that road? No. My opinion is that we should view all of these signs as a call to action and a time for transformation.

III. Opportunities

So what are the opportunities that we have for change?

· Librarians have the opportunity – and the tools – in 2007 to create a truly student centric library. Dr. Lane refers to ESU being a “student centered institution” and this concept can be no more evident than in libraries.

Let me read you a quote I read recently: “New technology has wrought subtle changes in our behaviors, language and thinking. Plotting our own random paths around the internet has made us think more fluidly, as has setting our ipods on shuffle and skipping randomly from track to track. The result is that we’ve become more individualistic and open to change”

There is a monumental change in our culture that is taking place right now. We serve people who will not seek or use information in the way that libraries currently provide it.

A freshman student coming to ESU today will never have lived in a world without computer and internet. They are “digital natives”, while most of us in this room are “digital immigrants”.

You may have heard about web 2.0, which is touted as the next generation of web usage. This phrase was coined to describe what has become a turning point of the web to becoming a more user friendly access to information, more of a social network, and more individualistic and consortial content sharing. For example, in web.1, we talked about personal websites, Britannica online, and publishing. Web 2.0 is blogging, wikipedia and participation. It’s all about us as the users of the web – what we think, who we want to interact with and what we want to find.

In the same way, there is a movement called Library 2.0 which is patron or student centric in a way we have never been able to be.

Let me read from the September 1, 2006 Library Journal article by Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk: “Library 2.0 is user centered change…a model for library service that encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation in the creation of both the physical and the virtual services they want, supported by consistently evaluating services. …What makes a service library 2.0? Any service, physical or virtual that successfully reaches users, is evaluated frequently and makes use of customer input is a library 2.0 service.”

IV. Ten commandments for providing student centric or library 2.0 service

You may have heard about the church sign that said, it’s Ten Commandments, not ten suggestions. Well, I have ten suggestions that may sound like commandments, but aren’t really.

The first one is:

1. Thou shalt take library service to the student rather than waiting for the student to come to thee.

Delivering service to the customer: taking the library to the students is vital. They need information services at all hours, and if the library doesn’t provide it, someone else will. The same goes for faculty – at every turn find a way to be responsive to what they need and deliver it.

We can have friendly and knowledgeable staff behind the reference desk, but that does little good to those who cannot or do not want to get to the library.
Be where the students are. And where are they? They are on facebook, myspace, second life..on their ipods or on their cell phones.

A librarian told me last fall that she can accept student’s text messaging their information requests to the library reference desk, but she will not tolerate mis-spellings on text messages. No “ lol” or r u bzy for her. I can imagine the laughter behind her back about this by anyone staffer under 30. we cannot and should not try to make the new culture play by our rules

We don’t have to throw out grammar or libraries as we know them. We just need to refocus our services, making use of new technology, and returning to student centric service.

2. Thy services shall be available on the web.

This goes along with the first suggestion. Look at your website. Make sure there are no barriers to service on it.
I have a good example of a barrier that was on the State Library’s website. We offer a service called the Kansas library card which allows access to statewide online information resources. How cool: get a card and then you can get access. But…we said you had to go to your library to get that card... And then we said you had to renew every year. We are in the process of changing that, and now you can get a Kansas library card online and soon will be able to renew online. But we’ll change again in the near future as IP addresses are now readily available, and we could authenticate that you are in Kansas just by zip code.

Barriers are fairly meaningless today to students who play computer games, or who collaborate on projects, with students from different countries. We cannot put barriers in front of our customers, and we MUST be convenient.

3. Show that you are relevant to today’s students.

Lots of ways to seem relevant. If you aren’t already doing it, offer reference through instant messaging. Use youtube for orientation; try a new format. Last may we launched a statewide library of audio books that could be downloaded any where in the state, any time. It has been a huge success, with our turnover rate at currently 10 (which mean that each title has been downloaded on average 10 times).
This has been a great project, but what were the reasons behind doing it? Well, many reasons, including providing access to audio books for Kansans. But another reason was to send a message that libraries in Kansas are relevant; that we can provide service “to your door.” This project has generated a lot of press and good will.

4. Go that extra mile. There is no such thing as a boutique service anymore; all service requests should be taken seriously. If you can’t provide it, well you can’t. But be open about suggestions for service.

5. Review your policies. We need to look at every one of our policies – if your library don’t have as lenient a policy on food, drink and cell phones as the local book store, you need to rethink them. I know that’s a hard one, but if I’m a student and I have to ditch my coke before coming to the library, I might not come to the library.

6. Point out that getting answers can be one click to your library rather than many clicks to relevant and sometimes irrelevant (and downright wrong) information.

I read an article by Katherine Mossman in the July, 2006 Library Journal in which she says that libraries will regain market position in reference when we deliver information more reliably than and as conveniently as Google.

7. Be open to the creation of content. That is one of the biggest changes in today’s information world and that is that everyone can create content and many do via blogs and websites.

I was taken aback recently when someone encouraged us to allow mashups on the Kansas digital library, with pictures of everything from museum artifacts to early Kansas communities. My first reaction was “what?” my second was “sure”

8. The eighth one is a commandment: thou shalt market. think about opportunities for marketing that were never there before, and free marketing. The state library has a presence on second life; many libraries have a myspace account.

And Blogs and wikis give an opportunity for real customer input; many libraries are offering book reviews online with the opportunity for patrons to write their own review. Just like Amazon.

And wiki have become the online tool for cooperative projects. In Tanzania, activists are working on a new constitution using a wiki. The idea is that citizens can collectively create a compelling enough document to force the national political power.

9. Goes back to the basics.

State and restate the obvious – we have books, we do reference, we have good hours, we are free for you. Amazing how that can surprise people.
We need to go back to the basics as to the original reason we were created: the academic library began in order to support the curriculum; provide information and foster democracy.

10. Ten is also a commandment. Thou shalt be flexible, nimble and light on your feet; if you can’t handle change, get out of the library because it is only in constantly reinventing and transforming itself that libraries will remain relevant. We aren’t going back to the good old days, period.

V. What is at stake

So what is at stake if we don’t embrace library 2.0?

· I don’t believe there will be a time in my lifetime that libraries don’t exist. We have a tremendous impact on our institutions, our communities and our country; in order to understand that, you only need to think about what would be missing if libraries did not exist.
· If libraries didn’t exist, collected and recorded history would be lost; knowledge would be severely limited
· Research would be do-it-yourself (scary)
· There would be no depositories. The majority of federal depositories are academic libraries. For more than 140 years, depository libraries have safeguarded the public’s right to know by collecting, organizing, maintaining, preserving and servicing information from the Federal government. This would be lost.

· The Free press would be severely hampered.
· If we didn’t have libraries we would not have the Democracy we have today.

Before you think the last two are too melodramatic, let me tell you a story. I am honored to have been appointed as a United States commissioner to UNESCO. It’s been a very interesting term and I’ve felt like the country mouse as I’ve rubbed shoulders with members of Congress, cabinet members, and the Librarian of Congress and others. One of the commissioners is a representative of the associated press, and we had an interesting discussion at the last conference. The assignment for our group was to make recommendations as to how to promote democracy in some emerging African countries. The person from the associated press said that the very first thing needed was a free press, and that without a free press the country would never achieve democracy. I argued that a library was the first step, and that without a designated space to store that emerging government’s documents and make them accessible to people….to store the history of the country and make it accessible….to provide a place for the citizens of the country to read and learn…..there would be no democracy.
Well, after I said that you could’ve heard a pin drop. And finally after a long silence, the associated press person said….I never, ever thought about that.

I believe that our great institution of democracy would not work without the truth being widely available through a free press and libraries

VI. Conclusion

ESU is embarking on a new journey, with a new president. The
history of ESU will be different because of this new president. There are opportunities and challenges ahead, and the history of ESU will be impacted by Dr. Lane.

Libraries have challenges like at no other time in history. And they have more opportunities than any other time. There is a lot at stake as we determine how we will serve in the next decade.

But I believe that we can be flexible, we can embark on the journey to library 2.0 service. And I believe that because most librarians got into this business because they wanted to connect people with information.

And if we do that, our impact on the students, this institution and the world will be immeasurable and the library’s future secured.

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