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The Value of Value in the Near Distant Future

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

As he frequently does in his presentations, Stephen Abram, Principal, Lighthouse Consulting, made some provocative statements and asked probing questions. He discussed the value proposition for libraries, which is (1) Why do we exist? and (2) Does what we do align with that? For example, many libraries have launched extensive digitization programs, which may not be productive. We could be making the world a worse place because we have not integrated the results, so it is difficult to find them. Have we unfettered our information or have we continued the long tradition of libraries to add fetters to it? That is not making it easier for the user.  It is as if we have a lot of pretty mosaic tiles, but we have not made a picture. What are our tiles making and what is the context of our users? When we pull a lot of content together, it can lose context and become more of an amorphous mass.

We need to ask ourselves questions: How many of us have surveyed the top 10 questions our library requesters ask ? When you know those, what is your website support for them? How do you build a path to information literacy. Are we still book-centered? People have visual, auditory and textual learning styles; how do we put context together for them?

We need to consider how museums curate materials. When you build context, you must support a point of view.  Museum professionals curate to a point of view; librarians pretend to be non-judgmental and not have a point of view.  There is no bigger lie that we tell ourselves. We are biased toward culture, quality, what choices we make, so we need to be clear on the point of view in order to curate.  Are you focused on learning, discovery, or broadening viewpoints?

Do our virtual branches model the activities of the main library? Or do we keep things completely dis-aggregated and expect the users to figure out where to go or which database to search? We are not moving fast enough to aggregate properly.

Personas are very useful in determining the groups we serve and creating services for them. The way people are changes how they work with things. We now know that people have different learning styles, so we cannot prepare them by making them all readers. DVD rental stores have nearly all disappeared, so many people are using non-textual resources in libraries. In the 1800s, people read together in a classroom; now we watch DVDs together. We are looking for information literacy skills instead of looking for information fluency skills. Skill is not the goal; it is a process toward the goal.

Why are we going against biology? People develop at different rates based on their age. Personas help us determine this. We need to show people how to get better information from all the quality things we have licensed.  How do we aggregate the social with everything else?

We have fields, tags, tools, linked data, etc. that have all been redesigned to make our data work together. Do our metadata strategies support the pathways that users are taking? We have tools to create things that integrate multiple types of information and support the specific challenges we face. Why don’t we have our pathfinders in a huge vault that everyone can share. Librarians have a huge ability to keep their lights under a basket!  We need to work from features to functions and benefits.

How are we integrating the librarian and the social contract into social media spaces on our websites? If you are not where your users are, you are running away from a marketing opportunity to represent your values.

Physical and digital materials each have strengths and weaknesses, so create an experience to take advantage of them. Is your search experience generating self-esteem and knowledge when that is needed? Every collection in the library should be justified by the programs you are offering. Impact, outcomes, and value will tell you whether you are successful.

We are not an information profession; we are a knowledge profession that sits in the space between data and behavior. We need to evolve towards being experience-centric. We have a diffusion problem; why does it take so long for things to diffuse into our communities?  The main thing that we do not do well is to serve the business community.

Don Hawkins

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