Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reference Renaissance

I participated in a panel discussion at BCR's recent "Reference Renaissance" conference. Over 500 people attended -- indicating a keen interest in the topic. I sat on a panel and got 10 minutes to try to be "provocative." (Honest, I was supposed to.) My mindmap, a pdf, can be found here. I also put a link to it on my website.

I didn't attend the whole conference, but did get this sense: there was more talk about tools than about direction. On the one hand, that's reasonable for a professional gathering: people want to share what they've learned about new products and applications. But I didn't hear a strong, compelling vision for the future of reference services overall.

My own belief is that reference librarians are vital both to our profession and to our society. The direction of reference services in the years to come is all about community connections. It's not enough to sit behind a desk and wait for the questions to come. It's not enough just to roam around the building. It's not enough even to meet our patrons online. Tomorrow's librarians have to leave the building, actively investigate the issues of their community (whether school, academic, public or special), and try to dig in and help. One of my points during the panel discussion is that librarians, as a profession, often obsess about our status among each other, within and across our parent organizations -- which is as pointless as it is time-consuming. If we want real status, by which I mean "to be valued in the larger social environment," then we have to solve some of the problems our communities are grappling with, demonstrating our value through significant contributions of knowledge and expertise.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

I was one of those 500 attendees. I'd like to thank you and the rest of the panel for some great conversation. The session was much better than I expected it to be.

Your points about us being in the community rather than scoring points among ourselves is well taken.

Jamie said...

Hi, Daniel. You're welcome, and thank you for commenting. In my view, the challenge is to make a real contribution back to the people who pay us. Too often, we fall prey to infighting, vicious arguments all the more intense for the stakes being so low (Kissinger, I think, or Wallace Sayre). But who became a librarian to fight with other librarians?