I am starting to wonder if it is indeed possible to re-invent our profession to meet the information needs of a changing world. We can organize discussions until the cows come home, but until we as a profession start to think differently about the nature of information provision I think we are dead in the water. Oh sure, there are pockets of librarians who have actually shifted their weight to the other foot, but as a whole I think our profession is doing a terrible job of changing with the times.
I reflect back on the last meeting of the American Library Association in Anaheim and I was repeatedly struck by the old school nature of the meeting. There were precious few sessions where the conversation wasn't about a slightly different version of the same old thing.
At our faculty retreat we had a really good example of a new way of doing business when we heard from a clinical reference librarian about how they now accompany doctors and residents when they go on their rounds. This serves as the reference interview as they then follow-up and provide information that is needed to answer the questions that come up in interactions with the patients.
They have moved out from behind the reference desk and into a new information space. What strikes me as I try to generalize this to other parts of our profession is that we don't seem to be able to adequately identify where that new information space for faculty and students. One of the readings from our retreat pointed out that we are a profession in need of taking risks but generally speaking we are a profession of people who are risk averse.
Librarians clearly need to move out from behind the reference desk and stop waiting to be approached with questions, but the part that we do not seem to be able to grasp is where that new information space is. It is not sitting with faculty in their offices, it is not in residence halls, it is not in the lobby of the library, but rather it is in the new information space - Google searches, Facebook, My Space, etc. I am not discounting the need for the short term to have some way to answer questions for people that make their way to the library, but I think this is a dying proposition.
Developing systems that require instruction for the user is an activity with diminishing returns.
In a time of diminishing resources, we need to (and as quickly as possible) get the things that are unique to us - generally called Special Collections - processed, cataloged in a way that this metadata can be moved into the new information space. Items from our collections need to be digitized in mass and exposed to the world. We need to forge new relationships and strengthen ongoing relationships with IT professionals to develop new tools to expose our content into that new information space.
We have the ability to do this - do we have the will?