I’ll bet that loving reference librarians is not a sentiment you hear expressed often. Ignored reference materials are not the fault of librarians or libraries, but instead of the tectonic-like Internet-shift in information management that has included library reference functions.
Nevertheless, I do love reference librarians, but not for any memories I may have of those sacred books once under their guard. I have a new reason: I love them for what they could and should become – a center of local community life.
Indeed, the world of information has moved on, so how can the somewhat archaic functions of a library reference desk be worth a mention let alone an exclamation? Information management has changed, and what we think of as reference resources needs to change too.
Public libraries gain new life when they expand services – by adding things like children’s programming, emergency preparedness seminars, author’s readings, 3D printers and tech workshops – but these services have just skimmed the surface of resources, especially those that are available locally.
The main resource providers for communities are nonprofit organizations plus government departments and committees. Organizations, governments, and libraries have websites with links to other websites, but this kind of networking can easily fade into the overwhelming information landscape.
Making services and activities visible and accessible to a local community can’t be accomplished by websites alone; that once special medium has faded. Effective resource networking now requires personal attention and what has become known in business circles as community relationships (for example, see www.community.com).
Public libraries can increase their community outreach, not just by presenting resources to the community, but by representing those resources. It turns out that local resources need representation, and public libraries are in the perfect position to become the community-based resource of resources.
Library reference services once connected people to information: Today that service needs to connect people to people. In order to make resources more visible, accessible, and usable, and to encourage interpersonal relationships, resource management needs to become relationship-oriented networking.
The first step in doing this is for public libraries to offer a comprehensive directory listing of services and activities that are provided by nonprofit organizations and local government. Creating a directory helps pave the way to developing relationships between those who supply services and activities to the community and the community members they are trying to reach.
Creating a directory puts librarians in direct contact with organizations, and from these contacts, libraries can offer additional ways to deepen and broaden resource relationships.
Public libraries can help make their reference function serve the whole community by:
- Presenting nonprofit displays and exhibits showing what they do
- Offering nonprofits meeting spaces
- Sponsoring conferences and special events for the community
Networking libraries with nonprofits is both useful and practical: It merges the library’s skills for information gathering and dissemination with the wide-ranging content provided by community-based nonprofits.