Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Future-proofing libraries

Today I attended my first ever 'brown bag lunch'.  Once a month, librarians from around Cambridge get together to discuss recently published articles.  This time, it was hosted by Lyn Bailey at Classics, and the articles related to future-proofing libraries.
  • Bell, Stephen J. "Fit libraries are future-proof: A dozen ideas for whipping your library into shape." American Libraries Magazine, 21 September 2010.
  • Miller, R. "Future-proof your library." Library Journal (2008), 133(13), 30-31.
Thoughts beforehand: reading Bell's article, I was reminded of the article by Andy Priestner and Libby Tilley in the July edition of CILIP's Update magazine.  In it, they emphasise the importance of tailoring your service to meet the needs of the library users, arguing that the faculty library network in Cambridge allows for closer relationships with staff and students within the subject and greater independence and flexibility, which means the librarian is better positioned to meet the needs of these library users.

We did wander from the main focus from time to time, but only to interesting and thought-provoking topics:
  • The balance - and sometimes conflict - between professional core values and the expectations of the institutions we're affiliated with
  • Building a ladder of loyalty - developing our borrowers from casual browsers to committed patrons and on to become our advocates (and defence!) in times of cutbacks
  • Ranganathan made an appearance - with some debate on whether in fact every book did have its reader
  • On to collection management, particularly weeding and how the act of removing of a book from the shelf and showing it to academics can in fact cause the book to be borrowed, thus removing it from the 'to be weeded' list...
  • ...and back to the whole expectations debate, the librarian's perceptions how the library should work versus the perceptions of staff, students and other faculty members.
I'll look forward to the next one, at which (I believe) we'll get to hear some more from school librarian Jenny Horler.  Jenny spoke at our recent TeachMeet about how she tries to build a link for her 6th form students so that they're properly prepared for third level.  Her talk then was only two minutes long, so it will be great to have some discussion on it and find out more about how she does it.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear what other people think about the articles - whether or not you made it to the discussion!


  1. Oh thanks for this, always wish I could come to brown bag lunches. Will read articles now and think serious thoughts about everything you've said :)

  2. Tnx for this -- a useful summary I will pass on to a libn who had hoped to be there.

  3. Good summary although actually next one is at Lucy Cavendish (Jenny coming to the February one). No article yet so if you or any of your followers have ideas be great to hear.


  4. Niamh, I was going to write up something about the brown bag lunch, but I think I'll just comment here instead. The things that particularly sparked my interest in the articles and the discussion were:

    *the importance of personal relationships in building a better service, and the emphasis on interaction with current users rather than going after the non-user (something that you tend to hear more about). The debate about whether we want 'passionate' users, or whether 'passionate' is a bit over the top, was interesting, too!

    *using 'new' things (i.e. the internet/Google etc.) as a tool, not as an aim in themselves, and, moreover, using them as a tool for better local service rather than viewing them as a global threat.

    *the conflict between personal, local and institutional aims and values, and between core services that can't be neglected and additional services that we'd like to be able to offer. I wondered if the idea of a 'fit' library doesn't actually demand that we rethink that distinction - a fit library will have to offer whatever services the users need, whether or not they've previously been core or additional.

    The one 'take away' idea for me was that whatever we do, we should be able to justify it in terms of user need. (Obvious, but true.)

  5. Hi Niamh,

    Thanks for the link to the article on the fit library. It is an interesting and motivating read. Aidan, my mentor notified me of it.

    Definitely the last post has a major point in basing actions on user need.

    The 5th point on fixing what's broken and the related 9th point on being a problem finder and solver are salient for me. And good motivators!

  6. Hi everyone, thanks for continuing the discussion!

    Thanks Lyn for clarifying about the next brown bag lunch (oops!) and again for hosting the session, and thank you Katie for pointing out some of the other topics that I found really interesting at the time but hadn't written down so forgot about when writing up...

    HR Group, I'm delighted you commented, hope to meet you at one of the many Cambridge events. Celine, Liz, anyone else that's thinking about joining the discussion, please do!

  7. For anyone interested in attending or following the next discussion, Lyn has posted about it on her blog:

  8. and it should be a good one! looking forward to it already.....