I just re-discovered my notes from Dartmouth Biomedical Libraries’ October Conference for 2004 and found a number of things I wish I’d remembered earlier.
Academic libraries are facing declining use/circulation of traditional materials (books, print periodicals, fiche, etc). It’s not that students and faculty don’t care about libraries or learning, the problem is that libraries aren’t serving their patrons with the forms of information they need at the time and place they need it.
There was some discussion about doing reference in dining halls, in academic departments, and other places outside the library, but I see these things as the last gasp for “traditional” library services. The fact is, and all the presentations supported this, patrons want electronic services. Note: this isn’t to say, however, that they don’t want to read for pleasure; it’s just that research is best done electronically.
Reading through the notes I jotted down on my presentation schedule, I remember a few lessons I wanted to take home. Here they are:
Dartmouth College’s Susan Fliss and Jeff Bohrer made the point about the need for electronic resources in “Maximizing the Library Presence in Course Management Systems” when they noted that 73% of college students use internet more than library. Their presentation made clear that academic libraries must do a better job of connecting their resources with course materials in WebCT or Blackboard systems. Students aren’t and won’t go looking for them on their own.
In “Virtually Yours — The highlights and lowlights of Wesleyan University’s experience providing live chat reference…” by Kendall Hobbs and Diane Klare, I took note of their point that while expensive commercial software to support electronic reference is available, the free text-only software was easiest to use and most reliable. They also noted that knowledge management software would have been valuable, but they failed to use it effectively.
The other sessions had their nuggets of interesting detail, but those two have the most lasting value of me today. The overall lesson: go electronic, do it today, do it before it’s too late.