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You’ll wonder where the Library went

I may be showing my age, but how many remember the advertising jingle “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. Well if you are anything like me you should now have that annoying little tune running through your head over and over whilst you read the rest of this. Share and enjoy!

So, what brought this thought to mind? Two things.

Firstly, having spent a great few days on the road with Talis customers in Glasgow and Manchester, it is clear that the desire to provide ‘library services’ outside the walls of the Library is growing and growing. This desire is now starting to bump up against the realities of actually doing it. The technicalities of doing this are not that difficult, as we have demonstrated via our Project Keystone. The issues are more often about inter-departmental trust and cooperation.

These challenges are also not insurmountable, and there is much congratulation when the library user’s details appear on their Citizen/Student Portal home page, or on his/her page in the University VLE. As more and more of this occurs, it is not too fanciful to predict the death of the OPAC.

So when search/retrieve/request/library account details all appear embedded in the institutional interface, and that becomes the default interface on all the desktops [including those in the library reading rooms], how will the users know that it is the library that is delivering the service to them?

Progressing this a bit further down the line, to a point in the future when the library is bidding for some more funds to a group of decision makers who rarely visit the building with books in and are never consciously aware of the library in the virtual world. You could soon end up whistling “You’ll wonder where the Library went“.

Its up to the librarians of the future to be astute in how they market themselves in their organisations, to ensure that their worth is recognised, or we will see more headlines like “Bangor librarians face Internet threat” The answer will not just be to get the institutional web developers to put a “Data provided by the Library Service” message in a myopic font at the bottom of every page!

Lorcan Dempsey’s blog Services for intermediate consumers raises several issues about the way library services are joined up via intermediate services to take the user from where they are [which is now becoming far more likely to not be in a library] to the material they need in the most appropriate and seamless manner.

His discussion…..

Take the current example: the search engines are making us think much more seriously about the difference between discovery (identify what objects of interest exist), location (identify services on instances of those objects) and fulfilment (consume one of those services). So, we might discover that something exists in Google but then be passed to a variety of location and fulfilment services (buy from Amazon, buy from used bookseller, locate in a library near you through open worldcat, be directed to a local catalog by a resolver routing service).

Over the coming months, a major issue for libraries will be how to integrate the Google Scholar article discovery experience with the library location experience – in other words how will a user who discovers an article in Google Scholar, for example, be connected to a service which allows them access to a library copy they are authorized to use?

.. is about the way libraries should expose their services for consumption by intermediate services, which will deliver the library service to the user, not the other way around. But take that to its eventual goal and yet again you will find your self whistling “You’ll wonder where the Library went“. This time its not about the library disappearing inside a corporate identity, its about libraries disappearing behind an Amazoogle identity.

Librarians have understood the value of what they do to enable the rest of humanity to identify, find, and get to the information they need, since Aristotle was a lad, and because they also kept the books they were appreciated for it. When this massive value-add for humanity is burred behind several web service calls and some non-library interface, that connection won’t be so obvious.

So one of the challenges for the librarians of the future will be to make themselves, and the value that they add to the information society, known and appreciated. Otherwise they will go they way the high street grocer did when the supermarkets came to town.