This is the final post from my lunchtime conversation with Lauren. She writes about the library of the future much more effectively than I can. Might have something to do with our core competencies and personas! But I want to add a small dilemma. It is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
I agree firmly with Lauren about the evolving role of librarians from servants to service-providers to collaborators. I see it in the disconnect when I talk with librarians who haven’t moved into a collaborative role. When I talk about my activities, the ones I see as collaborative, I often get a quizzical look and questions about whether that is what librarians are supposed to be doing. For example a few of us have been teaching the introduction to the university courses over the past year. We see this activity as firmly embedded into library practice, especially as these courses are inherently about information literacy. Because of our teaching the library has had been able to give more input into the development of these courses. We are at the decision-making table helping to shape the future instead of reacting to whatever the “real” decision-makers decide.
But here’s my dilemma. We are doing more and more true collaborative work (embedded librarianship, assignment development, curriculum development, developing online journals with faculty) and spending more and more hours on these activities. Collaborative work is taking us away from our traditional service duties especially reference desk work. In the past the value of the reference department has been based on the number of questions we get each hour, each day, and declines in those numbers has led to proclamations that “Reference is Dead“!
What numbers will we use to prove collaboration to skeptics in the future?
This has become a bigger issue at my library because more of our classes are going online and asynchronous only. Two of my core classes that I used to teach each semester are now asynchronous online. Why does this matter? Because I am no longer teaching library instruction sessions for them, and my instruction numbers went down. Does this mean I was any less busy? Heck no. In one class I spent a few hours creating a video tutorial on the OECD.stat geared to their assignment and several more in consultations with the individual students. In the other I had to make my very first “Hi, I’m Lynda” video. (That video may seem old hat to you, but dude it took me forever). These videos were then embedded into the instructional materials in Blackboard and not just sitting on a library website hoping for hits. I felt like I was collaborating with the professor on how we could best integrate the library into the virtual world of these students.
Now, I track numbers of consultations, but in reporting this I only report interactions. I don’t report time spent. We track contact time with students in library instruction sessions, but not how much contact time we spend with the category of “reference desk interactions.” Because I am obsessive I track the time I spend on each question (both prep and interaction time) and counted all of that up for my tenure presentation this year. I spent over 80 hours in consultations alone. That number is twice what I spent in the library instruction classroom. This does not include any of the work I did on tutorials or otherwise. Tutorials and otherwise don’t exist in the library reporting mechanism.
So, back to my question. As we become collaborators, as we enter more complex relationships, how are we tracking it? What numbers matter most and can best explain how much time we spend collaborating with faculty? If a librarian embeds into a course like Steve Cramer, how does he account for the many hours he spends with those students? What about my political science class? Even if it may seem tangential to my work, it has had a tangible impact on my interactions with political science students (my consultations numbers doubled since I started teaching the class).
Our assessment efforts are a good starting point, but they tend to be based on small samples and are about (as they should be) student learning. They can’t and aren’t meant to demonstrate the breadth of work we are doing throughout the campus. They make the case that students are learning things, but they don’t make the case that a new reference and instruction librarian should replace the one who retired.
Because numbers have been used to prove our lack of worth in the past, what numbers will prove our worth in the future? More importantly if we aren’t tracking those numbers now, what is going to be our library future? Are we even ready for 2525?