The changing role of libraries
This week I've been attending the Visual Resource Association's annual conference. The VRA professionals see themselves as closely aligned to librarians, but a separate profession. Today I attended an interesting discussion on the changing role of visual resource professionals and was able to observe how a closely aligned profession views the library community.
Visual resource curators have spent the last several years connecting to their institution's libraries for support and resources, and now they are beginning to question the wisdom of this alignment. They see that libraries are having an identity crisis and don't want to go through the same issues. Librarians are seen as being disconnected from their patrons, and the VR curators take pride in the close relationships they've developed with their patrons. Libraries are no longer seen as the place to turn for information, and librarians are trying to face fundamental changes with superficial fixes.
Visual resource curators and librarians have many things in common, including collection development, cataloging, and reference work. The fact that these professionals are questioning the role of librarians as a collaborative partners should be something that the library community takes very seriously.
What directions should the future take? The panelists and audience had many constructive thoughts. VR curators see collaborative initiatives across campus departments as key to future development. The library needs to be one participant in these discussions, but can't expect to lead everyone. Another panelist suggested that digital library collection with well-developed metadata will dramatically change the role of the library. Although the content needs to be relevant to patrons, the use of the metadata will be how we disseminate this information. Another obvious change is that librarians need to find and understand our patrons. We have to educate them about the services we offer and not expect them to find us when we're needed.
The final consensus of the discussion seemed to be that collaborative models are the future, and expertise from many different fields is necessary. If libraries want to remain relevant in the digital future, we need to be willing to participate in these discussions and not try to do everything by ourselves.