May 3, 2007
Are We Winning or Losing?
UGL Head Lisa Hinchliffe does yeoman's work in articulating the contributions that information professionals bring to the academic experience, but the DI article still suffers from some of the same assumptions that plagued the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that was its likely inspiration, especially the assumption that it is the physical reference desk, alone, that signifies the library commitment to providing high-quality information services.
My assumption, as I've said before, is that reference service - whether delivered face-to-face across a reference desk, in the stacks (roving reference), in a residence hall, or in an academic department (field librarians) - is not defined by the quality of its furnishings, but by the expertise of its practitioners and by their ability to adapt effectively to new information use patterns embraced by faculty, staff, and students.
The reference desk isn't losing because Internet searching is winning, and a commitment to providing reference service via IM, Facebook, or laptop deployed in a local coffee shop doesn't mean reference service is "dying." Technology is a tool that allows information professionals to be more creative in the ways in which they deliver professional service, and adapting best professional practice to the changing information environment and to the changing ways in which our users locate, access, evaluate, manage, and present information is something that reference librarians have been doing at least since someone created classification systems, opened the library stacks to browsing, and embraced the notion that the user brought something of value to the process of intellectual inquiry.
Reference service will only go the way of the Dodo (to use the CHE metaphor) if we prove unable, as professionals, to adapt to our changing environment. Today's DI article is just another example of how well we are adapting at the University of Illinois. While this certainly could mean the "death" of the reference desk as the predominant model for information service, it is also sure proof that professional reference and information service (delivered in multiple ways) is alive and well.
Posted by swalter at May 3, 2007 1:05 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry: