Sunday, May 22, 2005

Libraries: Books!

The latest issue of American Libraries (May 2005) features an interview with librarian and readers' advisor Nancy Pearl, author of such books as Book Lust and model for the Librarian Action Figure.

She makes some provocative comments:

The library community is finally getting wise to the fact that libraries, especially public libraries, are not just about information access, but about helping people find good books to read--for their leisure time and for the recreational learning that goes on in many people's lives.


If you kept track of the number of times a librarian is asked how to build a website versus how many times they're asked to recommend a good book, you'd find that many more people ask the latter than the former. Yet we routinely teach master's students [in library science] how to do the former, while for the most part ignoring the latter.

I've selected these quotes because, once again, I want to highlight the fact that librarians need training in readers' advisory and that librarianship isn't about technology--it's about people and information (still mostly books). As I mentioned in a previous post, I have about four years experience in IT and an undergraduate minor in computer science, but when I had fellow students ask me what classes to take in library school, I always discouraged them from taking courses on Web page development and the like. Yes, basic Web publishing skills are almost a necessity these days, but they are not unique to librarianship, and can be learned in community college or in workshops and tutorials. If you are a library school student, avoid these classes and instead spend your time and mental energy on unique skills and knowledge to the profession of librarianship. This includes readers' advisory.

Please read my earlier post about readers' advisory for a definition and a bibliography.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I totally agree, Alec. There seems to be a real tug-of-war in LIS programs about what it is that is most important for librarians to know. Wayne Weigand wrote about this in American Libraries (January 2005), "Critiquing the Curriculum: The Entrenched LIS Agenda Needs to Change to Reflect the Most Critical Functions of the Library." He argues that reading and place are important library values that are undercut by "I-Schools" that focus on information at the expense of context. He argues that we should look at the library in the life of the user, rather than at the user in the life of the library. I think Nancy Pearl has her priorities straight. Good for her.

On the other hand... I'm still mulling over the whole concept of "readers advisory" in academic libraries. Students and faculty tend to make their own choices and we try to set up conditions that enable good choices without really having a lot of "can you recommend..." kinds of questions. In a way, picking books for the shelves, analyzing the periodicals holdings for a particular discipline, and creating displays and other means of encountering (rather than searching for) information are forms of "readers advisory"... though more indirect than what librarians do in public libraries.

Very interesting issue.