Chris Zammarelli - Future of Libraries Interview

Chris Zammarelli is a graduate student at the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies, working on a master's thesis about the potential for using social networking tools on e-government sites. He works as a library assistant at The Brookings Institution , writes the "biblioblog" Libraryola , the Banned Bookslut column for Bookslut, is a co-webmaster of Library Underground , and webmaster for SLA's Government Information Division . He also assures us that he has free time.

But let's imagine that you weren't so involved in libraries, do you search for and access information in general?

I currently use my local library to borrow both novels and CDs. I usually look up what I want from the OPAC on the library's website before heading over. I use my school library for research, but believe it or not, I've spent very little time in the physical library and more time using the resources available on the library's website. This will probably change once I'm doing more in-depth research for my thesis, though.

If I have quick questions, like about a crossword clue I'm stuck on, I'll do a Google search. If I'm doing more in-depth personal research, I'll use a variety of engines. I also subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds and email newsletters and visit a lot of websites, just to keep informed.

It seems like Web 2.0 is hitting libraries pretty hard, do you see similar trends in e-government?

I do, but not really in the U.S. yet. We're still very much in an information dump mode here. By that I mean U.S. government websites are primarily information orientated, with minimal interactivity. In the course of my research, I'm finding that other governments, such as Norway and Singapore, are incorporating 2.0 technologies into their e-government sites.

What's the role of government libraries in shaping e-government infrastructure?

From my limited experience in government libraries, I think a lot of what government libraries are doing is in the realm of the intranet. I would like to see a greater presence of librarians involved in the development of the publicly available government websites. I would suspect, given how a lot of these sites are organized, that there wasn't a lot of input from librarians.

How is the electronification of libraries changing the roles of librarians?

I think it's forced us to know more. I read an article in class about how public libraries have become de facto e-government resource centers, so we've had to learn more about IRS and Medicare forms and things of that sort than we've ever wanted to do. It's just an example of how our patrons' needs have become more sophisticated. It's a challenge for us to keep on top of what they want from us. I know a lot of people get frustrated by techie librarians calling for all librarians to keep up with, say, the latest technologies, but these may be the services that patrons will ask for. At the very least, it's important to check them out if you're asked about them.

If you had to name a single most important technology to the future of libraries, what would it be?

I have a feeling that as mobile phones become more sophisticated, they're going to play a big part in library services soon. Even something as simple as text notices and text-based reference could have a tremendous impact on the user's experience. This is something the Finnish Library of Parliament offers, and it's something I think could really take off here.

In your opinion, what are the most useful, and useless, features of libraries today?

Keep in mind this is coming from a grad student, but for me, the most useful features of libraries are the periodical databases. I know they're ridiculously expensive and becoming even more ridiculously expensive, but to have such a wide variety of resources to draw research from is really fantastic. It's probably clich at this point for a technology-obsessed librarian to complain about OPACs, but honestly, a lot of the ones I've seen are really poor. I don't know if vendors do focus groups with librarians or anything to test OPACs out before they're released, but they really should.

Thank you Chris for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. To keep up with Chris Zammarelli, be sure to read his blog Libraryola .

Customize Your Education