Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Past, Present, and Future

Today we had guest speakers in one of my classes. And what sorts of guest speakers do you get when you're a library science student? Why, librarians of course! Real live ones.

The two who visited our class were very interesting to listen to--they spoke about old card catalogs that took up whole rooms and the somewhat painful transition from card catalog to computer search engine. One of the topics they discussed was the shift that has occurred in users' expectations for the library. It's definitely true that new technology brings us new possibilities--in all areas of life, and the library is no exception--and with new possibilities we begin to develop new expectations.

One of the things that technology has brought about today is the assumption of instantaneous results. According to our speakers, people used to approach libraries with the understanding that a search or the discovery of an answer to a question could take a while; to use the catalogs, go through the proper subject headings, and find the resource you were hoping for would sometimes be quite a lengthy process. Today, we are so used to Google's 707,000,000 results in 0.15 seconds that the traditional library model seems like an awful lot of work.

When users have these shifts in expectation, part of the library's job is to adapt to the changes. It's tempting to write new user attitudes off to laziness or lack of thoroughness, but the reality is that the rest of the world is changing--the speed of transactions, the availability of immediate information worldwide--and the library must follow its lead. So where are we going in the next ten, twenty years? Wherever it is, you can predict that the everyday person (student, teacher, community member, etc) will be in the driver's seat and their new expectations will be the GPS.

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