Are libraries about information or service?
I’ve just read an interesting article about “lifecycle librarianship” that discusses the purpose of libraries and librarianship. The accrediting organization for graduate library programs (the American Library Association) has, since the early 1990’s, sought to define the library field in terms of what it could be as an information provider, and it accomplished its goal. Many librarians today in fact buy into this newly focused library role. However, in placing “information provision” in the driver’s seat, the library profession has relegated the service and physical components of libraries to the backseat; thereby undermining the historical, yet still relevant, mission of all public, school, and academic libraries. Libraries have long strived to provide not simply information, but a physical space to enjoy that information, as well as the services that promoted love of learning and reading, and research help to find and evaluate information in print and other formats. This traditional library mission leads toward a more thoughtful, enlightened, and active citizenry and a society of lifelong learners. Is there anything wrong with that?
I don’t think so. Information is abundant and readily available outside the library. (Admittedly, for many research resources, one needs to use a library or library website.) What libraries do offer, that is not available elsewhere, is a pleasant place to read and study, knowledgeable librarians to help with research, instruction for how to find resources, a place to gather for group work, and help with evaluating the information found. I’m happy to say that for Staley Library, as well as many other libraries, service is as an important part of our mission as providing information. Through research assistance, physical space improvements, classroom instruction, and friendly faces, we pride ourselves on being as helpful to students as we can be and we constantly work to improve our access to information resources and our services. So to answer the title question, my answer is “Both”!
Cited article: Crowley, Bill. “Lifecycle Librarianship.” Library Journal 133.6 (2008): 46-48.