Change has been a constant for libraries around the world for many decades now. But during the past few years, the pace has clearly accelerated. How do these changes, and our responses to them, shape library experiences?
This year’s OCLC Global Council area of focus explores this important question. We’ll take a deep dive into how experiences have shifted and how library workers are purposefully redefining resources and services.
As we prepare to gather your insights related to this year’s area of focus, “Redefining the library experience,” we asked our 2022–2023 Global Council leaders to provide some personal perspectives—especially with what they, and we, can do to be more intentional about identifying and innovating around these changes. Below are some of the highlights from their discussion.
Communication is critical
Evi Tramantza (Global Council Chair; EMEA Regional Council Chair; Director of Libraries and Archives, Anatolia College, Greece) emphasized the necessity of taking the time to communicate results with stakeholders. “We need to share understandings, articulate our impact, and build collaborations and connections. And that’s also true within the library. This is possible with empathy which allows people to be themselves, committed and creative. It is also important to slow down to allow time for careful reflection and informed planning.”
Michael Levine-Clark (Americas Regional Council Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, Dean of Libraries, University of Denver, United States) also found the last few years yielded a greater awareness of the challenges that colleagues and patrons face, due to discrimination, financial stresses, mental or physical health, or other factors. “Awareness of elements we may have ignored or been unaware of in the past—since they weren’t directly related to work—are now critical to supporting the whole person, for patrons and staff. Expanded awareness can lead to greater empathy for common concerns and those challenges that may once have been hidden from those around us.”
The library as community and research hub
Matthijs van Otegem (Global Council Vice Chair; EMEA Regional Council Vice Chair/Chair-Elect; University Librarian, Utrecht University, the Netherlands) highlighted the emergence of workshops as opportunities to build connections within the library and with the larger community it serves. For example, Utrecht’s Programming Café is an informal venue for researchers, students, and employees to meet, learn, and share more about coding and programming. “The informal tone of these events, coupled with the breadth of staff roles included, has helped dissolve divisions between research and support staff. And the focus on problem-solving reinforces our shared goals and reminds participants of the synergy required for successful research.”
Muh-Chyun Tang (Asia Pacific Regional Council Chair, Associate University Librarian, National University, Taiwan) emphasized the necessity of experiences that build connections. “Librarians’ solid awareness of the research process and ability to speak the same language as the researchers they assist allows greater integration and supports increased visibility for the library during a time of financial issues in higher education globally.”
Hong Yao (Americas Regional Council Chair, Director, Technical Services, Queens Public Library, United States) noted that the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic created conditions for her library to function as a true community center. “Residents needed in-person and virtual access to books and programming, of course. But they also had to find critical COVID-19 resources. And some branches even functioned as testing centers and vaccination sites during the height of the pandemic, requiring us to evolve as we responded to the needs of our communities.”
Matthijs added, “The pandemic has brought to light issues about accessibility of public services, trust in institutions, and social injustice. In my opinion, libraries are qualified to take the lead in dialogues about public values. Library virtues—like reliability and trustworthiness—are more important than ever beyond the context of traditional library services.”
Supporting users’ changing needs
Some of our leaders’ reflections made it clear that pre-pandemic trends—like the growth of virtual access and importance of open content—have accelerated. Even those who preferred physical collections learned to navigate parallel digital options once the need arose, and that shift may well become permanent for many.
Gaye Rowley (Asia Pacific Regional Council Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, Director of the Library; Professor in the Faculty of Law, Waseda University, Japan) noted that an increasing number of library workshops from basic digital literacy through specialized database use are now offered online. “The increased uptake of these workshops in their online format suggests that in-person workshops may not be needed as much in the future, and we may abandon certain in-person workshops entirely.”
Michael added, “I believe that academic librarians have realized that we should have been thinking about course materials more intentionally. I’m excited that we’re now often the leaders on campus in championing open educational resources (OER).”
Join the conversation
A survey on this theme—open to anyone working in a library, anywhere in the world—is available until through 28 February, 2023. If you haven’t already, please provide your important perspective. Later in the year, we’ll consolidate responses and provide an overview of how you and your colleagues are helping to redefine library experiences.
I also invite you to attend one of our webinars, where we’ll discuss changing library experiences and related topics in more depth.
We relied on the framework presented in the New Model Library: Pandemic Effects and Library Directions when designing this year’s area of focus. It’s a helpful way to think about changes in your own library. We encourage you to review the report and the learner guide.