Tuesday, December 13, 2016

You're all alone and so peaceful

So, I want to talk about our tendency as librarians to over-market our services as a substitute for listening to what our users really need from us.

An opinion piece on Forbes' site discusses the how a combination of Big Data and information literacy can create a more informed citizenry--one that can identify fake news when it sees it. It's not an objectively terrible take on the idea of fake news and what can be done about it. There is a part that gave me pause, though. The author begins the closing paragraph of his article by stating "...we see that fake news exists because as a society we have failed to teach our citizens data and information literacy."

I feel like Michael Bluth speaks for all of us here...

Okay, but also yes.

I should start by saying that I believe that librarians have thought a lot about what it takes to create information literate people. I should also say that I believe that those among us who have taken on reference and instruction roles go about the business of creating information literate people in really thoughtful ways. If you want a thoughtful take on information literacy in an age where people believe that truth is relative, I highly recommend that you take a look at what Kevin Seeber has to say about how creating information literate people is more complicated than just teaching people that this source is good and that one is bad. I think that Kevin makes a well-reasoned, thoughtful argument. You should read it.

As a metadata creator, I spend relatively little time thinking about information literacy and about creating information literate people. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about whether (and how) our collections and services resonate with our user communities. I feel like one of the things that librarians do when confronted with a message like the one in the Forbes article I linked to is freak out and double down on their outreach and marketing efforts. If people can't see how hard we're working on [insert a topic here], that's a failure on our part to market our services well. We must not be doing a great job of making people aware of our tools and services, librarians think. so we need to work harder to connect with people. But sometimes the answer isn't another research guide or more table tents. Sometimes people don't notice the work being done by librarians on [insert a topic here] because we believe we know better than our users what they need to be successful.

Librarians talk a lot about The Future of Libraries: how can we invent our collections, services, and tools to maintain our relevance? I would argue that the best way for us to meet the future is to stop acting like gatekeepers of information in both a literal and figurative sense and to start spending more tine in conversation with our user communities learning more about their needs and thinking critically about how we can meet them. Having those conversations means having conversations with the people who are your most regular customers and those that you feel most comfortable around. But having those conversations also means talking to people who never set foot in your doors and those who make you feel the most uncomfortable. And most importantly, listening to your user communities likely means that the decisions you make will go against what you believe as a self-appointed gatekeeper.

I get why it's easier to choose yelling louder and louder over listening. It's easier and more comfortable and it allows us to remain comfortably in this notion that librarians know best. But the louder we yell, the more we become background noise. So let's stop yelling and start listening.

Stay positive,


Hải Đặng said...
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Anonymous said...

Libraries could serve by curating community conversations that work, and that are genuine. For some reason I am not seeing this.