I've been thinking a lot about what is at the
core of librarianship. What are the things we do that are unique to us
as librarians? What value do we add to the enterprise of higher
education? What do students and faculty expect from us? What makes us
consider ourselves librarians?
These questions have become more urgent for me in recent months as
the Community Colleges of Spokane have initiated a reorganization of our
library services. As of July 1, 2012, CCS Libraries will be one,
unified, district-wide service and not the three separate services
(Spokane Falls CC, Spokane CC, and the Institute for Extended Learning).
These changes are proceeding with the usual mix of intense interest
and anxiety attendant on such undertakings. What will happen to our
services? Is my job safe? Who's going to cover the reference desk on
weekends? Will I have to work at two separate library buildings across
town from each other? The lists of possible problems can go on and on.
It isn't my intention to write here about all of the bad things that
may or may not happen. Rather, I'd like to ask questions about the core
activities and services that make us librarians and our buildings
libraries. Change can present some difficult times, but it can also
give us an opportunity to choose more deliberately the priorities that
we wish to pursue. As a librarian at Spokane Falls, my focus will be
more on the issues and opportunities we have identified in that setting.
Currently, the librarians at SFCC work in an environment that some
have labeled a "Learning Commons." We share a desk with IT help staff
and their work studies, and all of our reference desk work is done in a
busy, loud environment. The bulk of the questions revolve around
technology issues: how do I print double-sided, why isn't my print
coming out of the printer, how can I get page numbers in my word
document, can you help me scan this document, etc. While we do still
get some reference questions in a more traditional sense, this has
become increasingly rare. Part of the reason, I believe, is that we are
trying to be everything to everyone. We are fixing printers, scanning
documents, helping with margins on Word, logging mobile devices onto the
network, and generally behaving as though we are IT technicians.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that librarians should be tech savvy,
and I don't mind helping out when necessary. However, I did not become a
librarian to provide IT support. I became a librarian to be an
educator. I am there to help students with research strategies,
developing critical thinking skills, find the best resources to fit
their learning needs, identify good websites, cite sources properly,
etc. I'm not there to clear paper jams from the printer, which is,
unfortunately, located right next to the reference side of the desk, not
the IT help side of the desk. I'm not there to connect laptops to our
wireless network. I'm not there to clean up formatting problems in
Word. Nevertheless, I spend an increasing amount of my time putting out
IT fires, when I could be helping faculty develop assignments with IL
components, making online tutorials, creating timely workshops for both
students and faculty, attending meetings with my liaison departments
more regularly, pursuing professional development, and other important
parts of being a professional librarian.
This reorganization, I hope, will provide us with the opportunity to
define more clearly the core competencies that distinguish us within the
library and on campus. How best do we provide reference services in
our setting without become adjunct IT technicians? How many hours do we
really need to put in at a desk. We are open 67 hours a week, but we
have only 2 librarians who can cover these hours. How is that going to
work as we move forward? I believe we can do a better job if we find a
way to get to the core of librarianship. Perhaps that will mean moving
the reference desk to clearly delineate its role in the library.
Perhaps it will mean providing in-person reference only during the
busiest hours and being "on call" during less busy hours. Maybe it will
mean a different model.
In closing, I open up the question to the rest of you: what is core
to our profession? What are the activities and services that are
essential to what we do? What things can (or should) we drop? How do
you staff your reference desk while still maintaining other services?