Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Chronicle: 9/30/2005: Reference Questions in the Library of the Future

(subscription required for rest of article) The Chronicle: 9/30/2005: Reference Questions in the Library of the Future: "That new way of conducting research has probably led to the widely reported decrease in the number of queries at traditional reference desks. The decline has prompted discussions about the future of reference work and has even convinced some librarians that traditional reference services will soon be obsolete. However, reference librarians report that reference questions now tend to be more complex, albeit fewer in number.

Other pressures, from both inside and outside the academy, are also prompting changes in reference services. Among them are the changing nature of pedagogy, the characteristics of 'NextGen' college students, and increasing globalization, or the 'flattening of the world,' in Thomas L. Friedman's words. Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times, argues that political and geographical boundaries are no longer barriers to providing important services from distant locations; he envisions worldwide commerce revolutionized by digital communications.

Most colleges and universities are adopting new pedagogical approaches, like requiring students to work in groups and to make presentations using digital media. Reference librarians need new skills to work with the new pedagogies. Requirements like 'hands-on experience with virtual reference services,' 'ability to serve as library Webmaster and to design library Web sites,' 'experience with electronic course-management systems,' and 'ability to prepare online instructional materials' are common in job advertisements today.

In addition, reference librarians typically must be teachers themselves, in formal information-literacy programs or in one-on-one sessions with faculty members and students who need help navigating an increasingly complex digital environment. Some institutions, like Kenyon College, have created hybrid positions that combine the roles of reference librarian and instructional-technology specialist.

The changing nature of college students also makes it important for reference librarians to be comfortable with new technologies. NextGen students are accustomed to using computers and cellphones, sometimes at the same time. They expect services and resources when and where they need them, not when and where the library staff wants to provide them. Students also expect library and information-technology operations to work cooperatively, to provide effective student-support services."

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