Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deeper thoughts on "Case #3"

An exchange of teasing comments and email with our library system's training coordinator resulted from the previous post. This in turn led me to revisit some of the basic issues around which this blog revolves.

I first addressed this in "Customer service for curmudgeons":

I'm one of those introverted people whose temperament is most suited to solitary intellectual and creative pursuits, or to interesting conversation and recreation with a few close friends.
Probably library schools have a real challenge now when it comes to discerning which people, with which temperaments, would make good 21st century library professionals.

Back in my century [haha] it generally worked okay for introverted people to become librarians. The core concerns of the field were organizing information and being able to recover it. The skills of dealing with human beings weren't so central.

Ya want fries with that?Now the whole field has shifted its focus from information to the customer's need for information. The very use of the term "customer" [ugh] underscores this reality.

As a 20th century curmudgeon, I personally regret this shift. To me it reflects a disturbing shift in what our culture values. Away from valuing the proactive processes involved in learning and doing critical thinking. Toward valuing the reactive processes of consumerism, because-we-can "innovation" and the marketplace.

However, the realities of institutional funding demand that libraries become "businesses" serving "consumers," giving priority to what they believe they want, rather than to what we know might be useful.

And this reality, in turn, demands that we become even better at doing what we used to call the reference interview. Because we do know what might be useful, and they don't (necessarily) know what they want. And if we can translate from their "want" to our "know," we can win them as customers.

Another way of looking at this—a way of shifting the focus back to the proactive role of librarianship—is to push against the tide of consumerism in a deliberate and professional manner. "You think you want that, but, look, wouldn't this be much more useful/rewarding/entertaining/informative to you?"

What a challenge!


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