Current Awareness Strategy Blog

The biggest challenge facing libraries and information services today

Communications and promotion are two of the biggest challenges that information professionals face today. These are essential library management skills. We conducted a short survey exploring how library job titles had changed over time, as well as what goes on behind that title in the Librarian’s role itself. Although the sample size was relatively small, the results say a lot about what we are seeing across the information industry at the moment.

"We are librarians, but we do not have to be called librarians in order to advance the values and skill of our profession." Greg Lambert


Are you called a librarian, or something else?

The survey respondents were compiled primarily of Librarians (40%) with the rest being made up of Knowledge Managers (18%), Information Professionals (14%) or Other (27%). Of these respondents, 36% stated that their job titles had changed in recent years. Looking at these results, 50% had experienced a broadening of their job title as they move away from having the word ‘library’ or ‘librarian’ included. But what impact has this actually had on their role and how they work?

Does the library name fit the information role?

When it came to exploring the role behind that title, 68% of respondents were satisfied that their title does accurately reflect the work that they do within their role.  Of the 32% that did not agree, it was interesting to note that 85% of these had a broader, non-Librarian focussed role. This includes one respondent who described themselves as a Research Librarian despite the fact that their official title was an Information Professional.

So what does this really mean? Once again, we see a manifestation of the lack of a clear understanding of the role and purpose of the library and information profession. Whilst titles may be broadening and shifting away from library terminology towards a knowledge and information focus, there doesn’t seem to be much change going on behind those names.

A rather famous playwright once asked:

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”
William Shakespeare

It seems that the focus shouldn’t be so much on changing the name of the library but rather we should be looking at what is happening behind the scenes.

From reluctant end-users to technology superstars?

So what are the biggest challenges?

41% of survey participants cited perception of the library and information service as the biggest barrier to success in their role. Next came budget and lack of resources (including time) at 18% each. 14% blamed problems with strategy, whilst 5% referred to issues with the IT department or problems with information overload.

Sadly it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see poor perceptions of the library at the top of the list. It is clear that there is a consistent failure of firms and coworkers to see the need and value of the library and information service.

“No one knows what the job title actually means in relation to libraries”

We continue to find that the old-fashioned stereotype of the library being solely place where one goes to check out books is causing issues for library and information professionals fighting to achieve their organisational goals. Whilst traditionally one might view the library as a physical space, it has now evolved into a fully fledged service with new innovative ways of sourcing and sharing information being developed each day.

“[The biggest barrier to success is] the perception of what a library is rather than what it does”

However in the wake of the coronavirus, we are now all providing support remotely. For the time being, the traditional library space is dead and we are all reliant on online sources. Maintaining channels of communication is more important than ever. The more we collaborate and share experiences, we can make a success of remote working in a corporate/legal library environment.

Many information professionals have found this helpful

What can we do about it?

This is where strategic thinking can make a big impact. I was glad to see some of the respondents describing their role in a more strategic way, linking it to the objectives of their organisation. It’s not just a case of providing information but rather timely, relevant, targeted information that fits the needs of its consumer and the firm as a whole.

It strikes me that many of the other challenges our survey respondents cited - lack of resources, issues with budget and so forth - could well be helped, even if not totally resolved, if their organisation had a better perception of the library and information service. If organisations could see and understand the need for a well funded and appropriately supported information team then perhaps they would be more likely to allocate it the necessary budget and resources.

This is where communication comes in. When it comes to the library, providing excellent information is not enough if it’s not reaching its consumer. It’s just the same as a company creating the perfect product but not telling anyone its there.The library and information service needs to be marketed and publicised to its target ‘clients’. One respondent wrote of their role covering the promotion of the service, and this really is key.

Getting a lawyer or another of your end users on your side could be your key to getting your service noticed with its value coming from an external source. Or it could be a case of promoting your service through testimonials from your coworkers, or linking up your value to your organisation’s key strategic objectives. Whatever it may be, what’s key is that you talk the same language as your target information consumers to get them to sit up, pay attention and see the library’s value.

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