Paying lip service to information

One of the paragraphs in this week’s modules struck me:

“It is often said that we live in an information age, and that the price of failing to act promptly to take advantage of positive new developments or to dampen the impact of negative ones is often likely to be rapid and painful. Yet there is plentiful evidence that sources of information, including both special and public libraries, are under-utilised by those in business and very often seriously underfunded. It is possible to conclude that business (like, one fears, some politicians, local government representatives, university administrators and school principals) is more likely to pay lip service to the importance of good information services than to support them in a practical way.” (INF538, Charles Sturt University, 2014)

I think it is something that librarians have to battle with on a daily – if not some days, hourly basis. Yesterday was a case in point. Our library received not one, but two, lengthy requests for materials and resources (mainly really expensive books) to support curriculum.   Oh, but that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing you may think.  Teachers reaching out to libraries to support their information needs.   Yes.  And no.    You see, the need for information, the seeking of and the request for and the acquisition and dissemination of the same is not so much an “on / off” switch (or email request) as a dialogue.  And what was missing from these interactions was the dialogue.

An information resource does not exist in a vacuum.  It has a context.  And in a school the context is made up of so many things.  And without the dialogue the quality is likely to suffer.

In our training, a big deal is made of the “information interview”  and there is reason for this.  We need to know details about what the client needs.  This includes the age group and reading and understanding level of the students.  Where the module fits into the curriculum for the year and where it fits into what has come before and what will happen in the next year.   The cultural composition of students.  The teacher needs to know what we have in the library.  What databases we have access to. What ebooks and digital materials are available.   Videos, youtube clips, and libguides we have created.  What other teachers have requested in the same and higher and lower grades.

This is why the first step and not the last should be to pop into the library and have a quick chat.  That way there is less waste of time while teachers make lists from google or amazon that may be entirely inappropriate, or a duplication for what already exists.

“support them in a practical way” … what does this mean for an organisation and a library service.  I think more than anything else, is to give it credit as an integral part of the information flow in the library.  Not an add on, but embedded.

And now the chicken and the egg question.  Is it the responsibility of the library / librarian or the administrator?  Where does one start?  How slowly must the process move?  At least one teacher said during a meeting yesterday (adhoc, impromptu and sudden for an ‘urgent’ reactive need)  “I wish I’d talked to you earlier”.    To which we responded by just fitting in with their plans and agreeing to meet their needs.   I can’t help thinking about the time management boxes that were so popular a while back with the “urgent, important etc. blocks”   Clearly something structural needs to occur.  But what and how?

Everyone is trying their best. Everyone has time and other pressures.  There never is a steady state.  So how do we become drivers, or at least co-pilots instead of passengers on this trip?

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