5 Thoughts about the Applecart: #1 – The Office
This past year I have been wrestling with some challenging conceptual questions about our library–five, to be particular. These are thoughts about the ways that we do what we do and provide what we provide. Big picture stuff that flirts with the floodgates (at least for us).
First, a disclaimer and setup: I am well aware that in the larger landscape of libraries what I have been contemplating are not new issues. Others have been reflecting, questioning, devising, and implementing around these exact things for quite a while now. Some amazing librarians and libraries are out there, moving and shaking. For my situation, it is more a question of degrees. Most of the changes that we have made at our library to this point have been subtle and…well…safe. My gut tells me it is time to think more radically about what our library does and the way we do it. How can we embrace innovation (and the very real risk of failure that comes with it) to try something that makes us a better resource on our campus for our users? What are they missing out on because I have avoided the risky business of upsetting the applecart? This is what I have struggled with over the past year. Don’t get me wrong. I am not driven to make drastic, innovative changes for the sake of making changes. No, my interest lies in offering the best library experience that I can for our users. It’s just that getting there may require some uncommon or risky tipping of the applecart. Take, for example, my first thought:
Thought #1: How can we broaden our concept of being in the office?
I want to rethink my idea of office hours. Sure, there are times when the typical office space is needed in order to do a particular task. And when in my office, I do keep an open door (literally). People know that they can visit me there to ask for help, and they often do. Likewise, the reference desk is a visible access point (if a person is in the building). But why wait for people to come to us? Let’s be proactive and go to them. There are some similar thoughts on this concept (in the public library realm) being shared by Tim Spalding (LibraryThing) and Justin Hoenke (Justin the Librarian).
The librarian-patron connections made by having “office hours” in atypical places could lead back to the library for more in-depth research. Or, better yet, such an encounter could provide a needed answer or resource on the spot. How would students feel about a librarian hanging around on their turf? I don’t know, but I do know a way to find out.
- Walk around the library. Get out of the office hidden deep in the recesses of the staff area or step out from behind the monolithic reference desk from time to time. Meander through the building looking for people who need assistance.
- Get out of the building. Hang out at strategic times in the student center, the lobbies of the residential halls (we have some cool ones), and the various academic buildings (near the classrooms, labs, and faculty offices) to offer the assistance of a librarian. Get the word out, be there, and be approachable.
- Sit in on class sessions. One of our librarians already does some of this. We could do more. The professors have welcomed this, and the advantages have been numerous.
My thoughts have focused on physical availability beyond the (very useful) virtual options–IM, email, Twitter, text messaging, phone, etc. We have a small campus where brushing shoulders is deeply woven into the fabric of our makeup. The library can make the most of that environment.
What are some other innovative ways that librarians could be available for face-to-face assistance? I would love to hear your comments. I am, after all, wrestling with this.
My next post will focus on some thoughts about the library facility. Stay tuned…
Pic credit: Copenhagen Questions
John Kennerly...library director, technology dabbler, and information handler. More bio