Last month I went to the British Library for a CPD25 event on professional identity and development for librarians. Over the course of the afternoon four speakers from different LIS backgrounds talked and discussed what it means to be a librarian in a period of change, and how to have an active role in shaping the way libraries and librarians are perceived by the public.The event included group activities, and some time was set aside for networking with other attendants, a mix of mostly experienced and senior librarians from a variety of different backgrounds, including academic and law libraries.
This post is focused on an interesting presentation by David White (University of the Arts London). David began exploring the library-as-a-building vs the-library-as-a-service conundrum and offered a very stimulating line of thought to reconsider how users interact with the library services. David argued that in the last decade we have become accustomed to the digital natives narrative, but never updated it substantially and what resulted is that we confused ownership with knowledge. For some years students came in with better equipment than the lecturers (and often the library/classroom itself), but it took us some time to realize they were not necessarily more competent at using technology to enhance their learning. Similarly, many library users struggle to appreciate the full potential of resources like library catalogues and reference software.
David proposed a different interpretation, which consists in considering the library user as a visitor or as a resident. For example, Twitter users can use the website without creating an account (visitor), or they can engage in discussions and build relationships (resident). The key here is not competence or knowledge (i.e. ‘fluency’, ‘native’), it’s how much of a footprint (i.e. identity) users leave in the digital space.
One’s interaction with the digital space can also be placed on another axis to analyse how the user’s identity changes according to a given role, in each case more personal or institutional.
The obvious example here is how one uses an email account, either for personal or for professional use, and even to represent a team or an institution (e.g. the Library account). Continuing with the Twitter analogy, a researcher could use Twitter either to publicly celebrate their rugby team’s win or to network with colleagues, each resulting in a different user experience. This different approach can change the way we think about social media in libraries; to shape appropriately our online presence, it is not enough to know if our readers use Twitter, we also have to try and understand how they do it. For example, an account that gives exclusively informative tweets (e.g. about opening hours, workshops) is good enough for an audience of mostly visitor users. However, if your audience is predominantly resident, an institutional account could try and seek interaction when appropriate.
Obviously, most situations are more complex than this, especially when other factors come into play (i.e. non-infinite staff resources). However, this new perspective could come in useful when planning changes to the service, ranging from opening hours, to social media, or physical space, because it gives a deeper understanding of the way the library is used at the edge of the digital and physical space. Many examples can be found online, some of which are part of David and his colleagues’ research, when they asked various users to place their routine online experiences on a map with the two axes described above.
– The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy, by Donna Lanclos and David White
Featured image courtesy of Photopin.com