Q: How do we define goals in the digital/virtual libraries? How have professions changed? What are the goals to be accomplished? How do we define ourselves as professionals? Please give me some directions of where the careers are going?
A: Well, this is quite a huge question, and I’m sure we won’t address everything in this response. But let’s give it a try…
TA: First, I believe we, as a profession, define our goals in a digital library the same way we define them in a traditional library setting. I find the following, from Wikipedia, especially relevant as we consider the definition of libraries and their goals: “modern libraries are increasingly being redefined as places to get unrestricted access to information in many formats and from many sources. In addition to providing materials, they also provide the services of specialists, librarians, who are experts at finding and organizing information and at interpreting information needs.” So, basically, our goals continue to be finding, arranging, and providing access (both in the short and long term) to information. I think the significant differences are that (1) types of information are changing, i.e. from paper to electronic; (2) information sources are changing; and (3) information tools are changing, and continue to evolve as quickly as we learn them. And on top of all of this, the expectations of our users are changing.
So, as library professionals, what does this mean for us? First, I think we need to see professionals with an attitude of openness, flexibility and an ability to continue to learn and grow. With technology changing so rapidly, we need employees who not only have the skills needed today, but also the ability to test, evaluate and learn the technologies of tomorrow. Second, professionals will need a solid foundation and academic training in the aspects of librarianship. Cataloging may not be called cataloging anymore, and reference may be called public service and instruction, but we’re still talking about the core curriculum in most of the major library schools. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need professionals who remain committed to the fundamental values of librarianship: free and open access to information, regardless of format, location or method of access.
My final suggestion would be take a look at various vacancy announcements to see what employers are looking for in new employees. Preferably you can do this while you are still in school so you can then shape your coursework and work experience to meet these identified needs.
SM: I think the most challenging part of our profession in the digital age is remaining relevant to our users. I agree with Tiffany, that the fundamentals of librarianship (collecting, preserving, organizing, providing access to information) have not changed — just everything else, including our users. They expect, and demand, that libraries provide certain resources, certain technologies, and certain services. We need to do everything possible to meet those needs, or they will go elsewhere. As our users get more technologically advanced, and as information-seeking tools get easier to use and more universally accessible, it will be more and more difficult for libraries to maintain their relevance in society, and in academia. In this light, I think we should be reevaluating our goals on a regular basis.
Although our libraries and our roles have been in a state of rapid change in the last decade or so, we are still librarians and can still define ourselves the same way our predecessors did in generations past. We just need to work hard to fit that definition into the current day and combine it with excellent customer service.
Professional goals that all librarians should be considering might include:
Staying current with new technologies and experimenting with new tools
Reaching out to patrons in new ways
Redefining roles in order to better suit the needs of the patrons and the skills of the librarians
Marketing the library, its services and resources
Collaborating with colleagues, other libraries, consortia, to provide better services and more resources across different departments or different libraries (joint licensing, ILL and document delivery, reciprocal borrowing, collaborative instruction, etc.)
Learning from each other