Reflection on Foundational Readings

Both Buckland and Mathews have some great insights into evolving library services to continually meet the needs of its patrons and embracing technological changes along the way. Buckland’s paper is pretty incredible in terms of him describing the changes that will occur in librarianship decades before his vision is fully realized. His descriptions would be prescient if not for how he fully details his thinking process behind each conclusion as a matter of simple logic.

Buckland describes the central purpose of libraries as service: access to information. And the librarians concern, “rather than being with knowledge itself, is usually with representations of knowledge.” I think these two simple definitions are profound and just as relevant today. Libraries that are on the cutting edge, experimenting with 3D printers, seed libraries, tool lending libraries, multi-media rooms, and more still fit comfortably within this definition, as they are facilitating sharing and providing access to knowledge that goes beyond just texts and images. Buckland’s breakdown of the three libraries, Paper, Automated, and Electronic provide different frameworks to examine the library: from its procedures, storage, retrieval, and use. His section on coping with complexity “when the user’s expertise is inadequate for the task” through user education, advice, simplification, mediation, and delegation can be applied to the attempts in innovation and services today in the library. As Buckland predicted, the transformation from a library-centered world to a user-centered world has already happened, and Mathews provides some great advice in how redesigning library services is about new processes, not adding new features.

Following the Startup model, Mathews calls out the emphasis in assessment such as library metrics on pleasing our users rather than focusing on anticipating their unarticulated needs. He wants libraries support 21st century readers by becoming innovative organizations by infusing “the entrepreneurial spirit into our local efforts and into our profession conversations.” My favorite suggestion made by Mathews is his request for investment into R&D. He states that “library administrators should serve as venture capitalists investing in creative concepts that show promise.” I desperately wish libraries and their administrators would do just that. Working as a part-timer at an academic library that struggles to meet their budget…well, it’s hard for me to imagine a library that would fund any R&D into innovation in their library.  But I do think we should strive for it.

These two papers pair well together. Buckland’s adage, “we adapt to what we adopt” slightly tempers the wild excitement in innovation and exploration that Mathews encourages, reminding the reader that a bottom-up approach to what our patrons are actually using and an eye on current technological trends goes further than jumping onto the cutting edge just for the sake of it. I also noticed that both authors are dissatisfied with state of strategic planning often failing to be actually strategic.

Perhaps the public perception of libraries is still behind where libraries are actually at, and where they’re headed. As public perception shifts, and as libraries continually reinvent themselves, I hope for a renaissance of library services through funded innovation and experimentation.


One Response to “Reflection on Foundational Readings”

  • Michael Stephens

    Your last paragraph is an inspiring thought about the future. Maybe this is in the cards for us – a “renaissance” based on information access, technology and services for people. The phrase may change from “I didn’t know the library did that..” to “Of course the library does that!”

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