Monday, April 2, 2007

The Reference Question: Iceland or Greenland? (Panel Session)

The Reference Question—Where Has Reference Been, Where is Reference Going?
James Rettig, University Librarian, University of Richmond; Jerry Campbell, President, Claremont School of Theology; William Miller, Director of Libraries, Florida Atlantic University; Brian Matthews, Public Services Librarian, Georgia Institute of Technology

Before the web, libraries had a monopoly on information, and reference librarians sat at the top with wizard-like status in our ability to discern students’ information needs. However the changing information landscape has resulted in a loss of control for librarians. To a great extent this disintermediation has been done to us, not by us. As such, we need to step back and see the dimensions of what we are trying to accomplish, and be clear not only about what we are doing but why. The mission has become more important than the means.

Our established practices are comfort zones that we do not want to abandon, but comfort zones make us slow to change, therefore we need to step out and explore new methods of service without being afraid of failure. Experimenting with disruptive technologies eventually leads to the adoption of new habits of practice in reference service provision.

Ultimately we must decide: what kind of Vikings are we? Are we going to survive in the newly discovered Iceland because we are willing to adapt our old practices to live in the new environment, or are we going to die out in Greenland because we refuse to change, implementing our time-honored methods of subsistence in the new, different, somewhat inhospitable world? Are we going to be creative and innovative? Are we going to eat fish?

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