Saturday, September 27, 2008

Redouble or Retrench? Librarians respond to the financial crisis.

Given the current financial crisis, it’s no surprise that librarians are alarmed, reactive and rapidly retrenching on nearly all-new initiatives, particularly anything that involves the outlay of money.  I wonder if that’s the right thing to do?

I’m on the mailing list of the North Suburban Library System, run by a friend and colleague of mine whom I greatly respect, Sarah Long, and I noted on the NSLS website that they are reporting increasing circulation over last year.  This is due in no small part to the declining economic situation.  It is not an uncommon trend.  Most libraries will see increased usage and circulation in bad economic times.

In my work, I recently met with the entire sales team of the company.   They all mentioned that that the librarians they’re working with are dealing with budget cuts and were therefore scaling back plans for new products and services.  Many are reducing current services and therefore the utilization of existing and installed products.   I’m dismayed. As librarians, at the very time that we’re about to see a renewed opportunity to re-establish in the minds of our users the value of our profession, we’re retrenching?!?!? No, no, NO!

This is very time we need to grab the opportunity and exploit it to no end.  It is unfortunate that this opportunity is arriving on the backs of so much pain for so many people.   But let’s grab it folks.  Let’s use it to:

1.    Focus.  In good economic times it is easy to try a large number of new ideas and initiatives and, as a result, to get pulled in a lot of different directions.  Now it’s time to get back to the basics.   That doesn’t mean basic services it means basic values.  Each organization will have its own values, but there is a common set of those values shared by librarianship.   In my mind, it is offering authoritative, appropriate, authenticated information that meets the specific needs of your users.

2.    Cooperate and share. Again, in good economic times, it’s easier to do specifically what you want to do, rather than compromise and cooperate.  Now that this is no longer the case, we need to get back to working together to achieve greater, collective good for all concerned.  Look to your neighboring institutions and purchase collectively.  Share what you purchase and make sure that you’re extracting the maximum return by offering unique services you have through your neighboring organization’s branches/outlets.

3.    Put up the new search interface.  Sure, they’ve all been using Google and will continue to do so, but very likely, they’re going to be turning to your organization for the first time in a long time.  It’s time to greet them with a new, better working, better service.  It’s the front door of your organization, make sure it isn’t a shabby one.

4.    Ensure the new search interface’s functionality conveys and confirms the value-add of librarianship.  I recently wrote a post about this on the Federated Search Blog. The main point of the post was that as Librarians we need to clearly remember what our mission and objectives are and make sure that in this online environment, we need to convey the value of those objectives through the automated tools we offer.

Finally, let’s remember the old quote that “Information is the currency of Democracy”.  We, as librarians are outlets for quality information.  The need for our services will never be greater than in the days ahead.  Let’s do it well, let’s do it better.  It is not time to retrench; it is time to redouble our efforts.


We might even want to start with our own library organization.  While researching data for this article, I encountered this at the ALA website <sigh>:

So, I went to Google, which showed:

Great, there is exactly what I’m looking for!  But, our fine organization has implemented a new website without maintaining the persistence of their URL’s, so when you click on the link that looks like exactly what you were hoping to find on the ALA website you get <double-sigh>:

What can I say??