Internet Activities and Changing Library Roles

I’m in the blogging mood today :-)

Go to this page from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and glance through the list of Internet Activities. This list includes 61 things America adults do online. It’s either terribly exciting or terribly terrifying, depending on your inclination to change and technology.

Here’s the exciting/terrifying part: most of these activities are things people used to do at libraries. Take another look at that list, removing the obvious “internet-only” and “non-library” activities, like send email, gamble online, buy groceries online, and participate in an online auction. What’s left? Here’s a modified version of some of the activities, with a translation to a traditional library setting included:

Pew Internet Activities Traditional Library Translation

See what I mean? Many of the things Americans once did at the library they now do on the web. Most likely using Google.

How should a librarian respond to this huge change? Quit her job? Continue at his library job, despairing all the while that said job will disappear when Google adds a “catalog this” button to their website? Or embrace change and figure out how to make the library work in the 21st century? Personally, I’d go with choice #3. here are some ideas for you to play around with:

  1. Training. I recently heard that 99% of all Google searches are extremely simple searches using 1-2 keywords (no boolean, not + or -, no quote marks for phrases, etc.). A little training on proper search technique goes a long way – it will help customers create better searches, thus making them happy. It will also show them “who’s boss” – they’ll realize that librarians aren’t searchers – librarians are Finders. And they will remember that, and use it. Often. And that makes librarians happy.
  2. Subject pages. I’ve been talking about the concept of Subject Pages a lot lately at conferences, in articles, and on this blog. And I won’t stop. If you create topic-driven content, that content will be found in search engines. Example – Go to Google, and do a search for Russell Stover (no quote marks). Russell Stover is a Kansas City-based candy-making business. The first result found is for the actual company, but look at the 5th result – that’s my library’s biography page on Clara and Russell Stover, the founders of the company. And people are finding that page using Google – 25 in March 2005, according to our web statistics software.
  3. RSS. On the above-mentioned Subject Guide pages, include an RSS feed of updated library content. This can push a range of information to potential library customers, like new book or video lists for that topic, events that are going to happen that relate to that topic, etc.

There are probably more things that could be listed here. The point is that librarians don’t have to sit back and watch Google, Microsoft, or Dogpile (just threw them in for kicks) take over our library world. Instead, we can use new tools for our benefit – to get information to our customers, and to rope in unsuspecting new customers.