Pushing for Respect

I read with interest Regina Powers' opinion piece--"A Plea for Respect"--in the August edition of American Libraries. Her plea is a common complaint among librarians today--"the public doesn't know what we do."

Usually, it is suggested that we either stay the course or we add more features for the public at our institutions--game nights, in house movies, "coffee and Danishes".... The problem with both lines of thinking is that we need the public's attention to make either work, and we just don't have it.

What we need to do is connect the information and resources that we have with the public at its point of need. We need to get out of our buildings physically and electronically and begin to push our resources the way other institutions do. We need to create partnerships with news media, local governments, public institutions, ISPs and others in order to connect the public with the information it needs at its point of need.

For example, our library has indexed the local newspaper for years. It carries the complete run on microfilm, as well. Periodically, when people have called the newspaper, looking for research on a dated topic, they have been referred to us, and we have been glad to provide that service.

Imagine, however, if our indexes were provided to the newspaper for use in their online edition and linked by keyword to current articles. An article about light rail would list links to citations concerning an older light rail study, or a series of articles about light rail, or previous council votes. An article about a political candidate would contain links to citations for previous articles concerning the candidate.

A local ISP could provide a start page with local news linked to article or book references.

Physically speaking, a librarian could actually be present with a laptop outside a city council meeting to provide instant access to relevant information concerning the meeting.

My point is this, we can't wait for people to discover how indispensable we are--we have to make ourselves indispensable. As long as we wait for people to come to our buildings and websites, our value will remain relatively hidden.

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