imageAs if the Kirkus and E&P shutdown announcements aren’t enough for traditionalists, here’s a warning for savvy librarians eager to avoid the fate of this bird—if they want to stay at an academic or public library rather than end up in the corporate world.

Project Information Literacy’s recent paper (PDF) says librarians were “rarely” used by eight out of ten college students participating in a survey. And that’s for “course-related assignments,” the very kind of situation where a librarian might make the most difference.

The paper isn’t so much about librarians per se as it as about how students seek out information for assignments, and Karen Schneider and Sara Houghton-Jan very smartly see this as a “must-read.”

Professor-recommended resources count for students. But as usual, “Google and Wikipedia are go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent.” Librarian-blessed resource methods don’t quite figure as much as they once would have, pre-Net. Of course, I see this is one more reason for a TeleRead-style national digital library system well integrated with local schools and libraries—and certainly academic ones as well.

To flesh things out, the paper’s scary words for librarians are: “Librarians were tremendously underutilized by students. Eight out of 10 of the respondents reported rarely, if ever, turning to librarians for help with course-related research assignments.”

The main point

As for the main point, Karen regards the paper as upending “most conventional wisdom. First, it shows that students’ information-seeking behavior is at odds with how many libraries provide services; second, that students actually have pragmatic, if overly-formulaic, approaches to research; third, the instructors are the first and most important human relationship these students develop in their research processes; fourth, that students value and use the scholarly resources we provide; and finally (something OCLC has reported in another context), that librarians are at the bottom of all resources students use for their research efforts.”

I myself see a future for librarians if they can lean on information providers to blend librarian-blessed resources better, so students don’t have to hop around from database to database—and if librarians otherwise simplify the use of the best resources.

One way for this to happen would be a system where librarians were more in control—TeleRead territory. Information vendors count. But users’ needs count more. Librarians need to be aggressive and pushy user advocates in such areas as DRM-usability (oxymoron?) and e-book standards—both essential to achieve maximum integration of resources.

Academic and public librarians can also survive if they expand their roles and help develop more books and other content—whether this means public domain digitization projects or partnerships with local bookstores to find and develop talented local writers.

No, I don’t see librarians as vanishing entirely if they don’t wake up. But they will see their numbers vastly diminished.

Oh, and in case you’re curious but haven’t clicked on the relevant link, yes, that dodo bird photo comes from Wikipedia.


Update, 5:04: Another librarian, Gary Price, MLIS and ResourceShelf maven, very correctly reminded me there are places for librarians outside traditional library settings, and I’ve modified the post. Still, my big point remains in the context of public and academic libraries. Do we want society at large to lose librarians to the corporate world and other nonlibrary settings?