Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Librarians with mobile devices!?! Whatever next?" - So spake the Google Generation (!?!)

I've just read Jo's post To Tweet or Not to Tweet which discusses the pros and cons of tweeting at conferences and does, I feel, give a nice view from both points of view (despite Jo's admission that she is clearly on one particular side of the fence). Jo also refers to WoodsieGirl's post Thank You For Not Tweeting which describes the experiences of tweeters who had something of an icy reception at the CILIP London Branch AGM, despite CILIP working so hard to try to get on board with social networking.

I would like to bring another point to this discussion. Starting with an unexpected experience one of my team recently had during our SmartPhone trial at Warwick...

We trialled the use of a SmartPhone for the Enquiry Team in March. The key reason for this was to make our web site and OPAC available to "roving" staff without the need for them to wait for an available OPAC terminal, be tied to a desk, or have to log in to a student PC to be able to look up information for enquiry handling.

A couple of days into the trial one of the Advisors came across a lost looking student in the Short Loan Collection who had gone there to find a book but on arrival could not remember the classmark. This was the first opportunity that had come up to use the SmartPhone for web browsing so she pounced on the moment and whipped out the shiny new gadget, telling the student she would look it up. 

Far from being impressed by the technological wizzardry of Library staff and standing in awe and amazement as the Advisor navigated her way through cyber space to the appropriate catalogue record, the student (you know, one of those young undergraduates who we all expect to fall firmly into the category of "Digital Native") looked a bit put out and wandered off to find a free-standing OPAC terminal to look it up themselves. We can only assume the student in question thought the Advisor was being pig ignorant and getting out a personal phone to answer a text message or play Zuma.

The Advisors experience was noted in the trial feedback early on, which meant that we were able to introduce guidelines for staff along the lines of - when you use the SmartPhone to answer an enquiry you must make a point of explaining to the student that that is what you are doing. Because even though the students may be checking the catalogue themselves on their own mobiles, the last thing they expect is for a load of LIBRARY STAFF!!!! (Heaven forbid) to be doing the same thing.

What does this say about the changing culture? 

It seems that it's not just non-tweeting delegates at conferences who are put off by the increasing employment of mobile devices in our professional circle. It is also, scarily enough, our target audience, the Facebook crowd!! (The same people who, now I come to think of it, said - "Why is the Library on Facebook?!?" for the first 12 months of that particular project).

The Library Land culture is clearly changing, and the early adopters amongst us are quickly getting more comfortable with 
blackberrys, iphones, ipads, and other exciting toys for professional networking and delivering services. BUT it may take a while for our young and cool users to fully perceive these toys as the worthy tools that they are, and even longer for them to connect the use of such tools with their stuffy old library service.

As frustrating as it is . . .

. . .if we are willing to work hard to convince our technophile undergraduates of the professional value of mobile devices, maybe we should expect to have to make a similar (or even a greater) investment to persuade our well established traditionalists?


NPage said...

What a great use of mobile devices in the library! I have to say I'm a bit skeptical of this 'Google Generation' stuff anyway - a lot of them are not much more tech savvy than we were when I started uni ten years ago.

Katharine said...

Thanks for this - it's true, sometimes I do come across students who seem completely baffled by the idea of email alerts from e-journals for example, things which I now consider so basic.
But the use of mobile phones for more than just making calls seems to be something they all do - its just not something they seem to associate with academic work so much, and certainly not with libraries.

Aarontay said...

This goes to the stereotype of librarians. I remember showing this student some library technical trick, and the student started praising me for being "tech savvy" and all that.

I'm male, fairly young looking, but now that I think about it, the student making such a big deal, implies that the students views most librarians as being not good at technology and I'm seen as an exception.

Katharine said...

Unfortunately I think you are right, I think until we can ditch the stereotype we are going to be held back in all kinds of ways - this is just one example.

Maybe CILIP should launch a huge campaign to educate the general public about the services libraries offer and what a librarian is. This may sound a bit mad, but I think it would really help us in many many ways, if people had a basic understanding of who we are and what we do.