Thursday, September 14, 2006

Get the skills to succeed...@your library reports on an emerging trend that's right up librarians' collective alley: Status Skills. The report defines Status Skills this way: ""In economies that increasingly depend on (and thus value) creative thinking and acting, well-known status symbols tied to owning and consuming goods and services will find worthy competition from 'STATUS SKILLS': those skills that consumers are mastering to make the most of those same goods and services, bringing them status by being good at something, and the story telling that comes with it." Skills are a product of information and training, and librarians fit squarely in the skills-providing business.

For me, one of the strongest appeals of this profession and of libraries generally is empowerment, which I suppose is a close cousin of status, but I'd never thought of it in those terms. I often talk to faculty and students about how empowering and plain cool it is to be able to find information on any topic that tickles their fancy. As a librarian, I'm enthralled by how almost any kind of information a patron may want is find-able. If it doesn't exist, then the resources are out there to make new knowledge to fill the gap. Amazing.

I've thought a lot about empowerment, libraries, and Web 2.0, or, whatever you call people's increasing tendency to want to generate/add to/customize information online via blogs, wikis, communities and so on. What I see is an emerging niche for librarians, which the Status Skills report does a good job of describing. Patrons don't just want to locate information. They also want to adapt, modify and transform information. We information experts can help them to be successful in those pursuits. We already dabble in this to greater or lesser extents. At VCU, we offer RefWorks, which allows patrons to store and manage their citations. Most libraries also offer basic software packages that allow patrons to manipulate information to create presentations, videos, and other projects. We're no longer gatekeepers of information; we're professionals who assist our patrons in achieving their best, whatever that may be. Doing so may lead to status for some patrons, but it will also hopefully increase the status of our profession in their minds. In other words, it's positioning ourselves to be relevant in an evolving information world by doing what we want to be doing anyway: helping people with information and expertise.

Recently, I've been struck by how powerful positioning ourselves in this way can be. The example I have from my work is far from Web 2.0 and equally far from innovative, but the results have surprised me nevertheless. This fall, our university began promoting a set of study skills that they expect incoming students to master, including time management and being prepared for class. In support of this worthwhile initiative, I created a brief study skills resource guide that addresses the university's expectations with supplemental library resources. Essentially, I've tried to give students tools they can use to improve their skills so they can perform better in classes, which differs from the traditional discipline-based guides that help people find stuff for their papers. It's nothing earth-shattering to those of us who make these guides all of the time, but here's what's happened in less than a month since I made the guide: A university administrator asked that instructors explore ways to incorporate this guide into their coursework; a residence hall advisor asked me if he could disperse the guide throughout his dorm because he wished he had those skills as a freshman (I said yes :-) ); I asked the RA if I might have a chance to talk to students in the dorm about these resources (he said yes :-) ), and I'm now planning a program for the dorm along with a colleague who heads up tutoring on campus; and I'm working with library colleagues to beef up our study skills collection. I also made a similar guide for members of student organizations with resources on topics like leadership, planning meetings and events, etc., and I've been invited to talk to organization advisors about what we can offer as a result. Granted, much of this has to do with the welcoming, collegial atmosphere here and trends on campus, but marketing is all about environment. I want our patrons to understand that we have resources for all kinds of information needs that can make them more effective in whatever they're doing on campus in addition to writing papers.

If you'd like more ideas on repositioning, I highly recommend Drew Racine's thought-provoking article in the latest American Libraries called "Bifurcate to Survive!" He suggests some pretty drastic changes to move patrons away from "libraries as books" to "libraries as information." You may or may not agree with him, but his ideas will shake up your thinking.

Categories: creativity_and_inspiration | must_reads | neat_trends | real_life | tips_to_try


john dodds said...

I may be jaded Jill, but I recognise a great piece of demysification when I see it. Bravo.

Jill said...

Thanks for the comment, John. I'm a fan of your blog, so keep up the good work!