Daniel Lee - Future of Librarians Interview

Daniel Lee is a Research Librarian at Navigator Ltd, a research-based strategy firm, and is President-Elect for the Toronto Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. For those who don't know you, could you talk a little bit about your background?

Sure. Prior to joining Navigator, I was the Internet Content Coordinator at the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). Before CIPS, I was the Research Coordinator for the Marketing and Communications department at Knowledge House, a Halifax-based e-learning software company. I have a Master of Library and Information Studies degree from Dalhousie University and I also have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Portuguese from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Let's pretend for a minute that you weren't involved in libraries. How do you personally use the library, search for and access information?

My main interaction with libraries outside work is using the public system. My local branch of the Toronto Public Library (1 of 99 branches) is amazing. I am there all the time browsing the shelves, taking out books, movies, magazines, etc. And TPL has a great online system for holding items and having them delivered to your local branch for pickup. I also access their Virtual Reference Library online for personal resource recommendations and research.

I primarily search for and access information using the web. If the web fails me, I go to either my own personal print collection or the one I manage at work. Failing that, I turn to one of my colleagues for assistance. Instant messaging is great for that. I have a crew of experts in various fields on my contact list who are only one instant message away.

What are the most useful features of libraries today?

The librarians and inter-library loan. I am finding that there is a refreshing attitude of fun and experimentation out there in libraryland. Many of my colleagues recognize the chaotic world we live in and the difficulties to be surmounted in delivering quality products and services to their users. Their approach is to experiment with new ways of working and I love that. Libraries are buildings and they don't do anything - it's the librarians and staff that make things happen in any library. They are what's most useful.

Why inter-library loan? Because it's an underused service that can open up an entire world of print and electronic information, if you just ask for it. If my branch doesn't have what I'm looking for, they'll get it for me - and it's usually free!

What are the most useless features of libraries today, and what can libraries do to eliminate them?

The librarian who cannot utter the words, "I don't know." I travel around North America fairly regularly and I make it a point to stop into the local branch of the public library wherever I am. I also make it a point to ask a reference question at the reference desk to see how my colleagues respond. Call it my own secret shopper program. I am always amazed by the number of professionals out there who flub their way through a response just to appear intelligent instead of simply saying, "I'm not really sure. Let's go take a look." In my opinion, it's doing a serious disservice to users to point them in a direction that will end up being a goose chase because of one's own pride.

Most OPACs suck. There are a number of librarians out there who have had enough with vendors and have decided to take matters into their own hands. While not everyone can build their own OPAC from the ground up, this work is inspirational and we, as a profession, should aspire to learn the skills required to take back the OPAC! Of course, the ultimate is to work towards integrating the various systems in a library of which, the OPAC is only a part, but considering most people out there are increasingly more comfortable doing their own research and go to the library's website and then the catalog, the OPAC should, without fail, lead people to what they're looking for.

What are the biggest challenges to libraries, and librarians' jobs. How can these challenges be overcome?

Fiscal ignorance (i.e. money is not manna from heaven - it's a line item in a budget usually approved by a bureaucrat, politician or CFO), invisibility, lack of metrics to put a value on information, lack of research from the practitioner community and a lack of access to published research in the library science field. Politically saavy librarians are successful librarians. I have often found there is a huge disconnect in librarians' understanding of where their funding comes from. And it's shocking to me when my colleagues say, "But I don't understand they are closing my library." Or, "Why has my budget been cut?" I don't have the answer for the research aspect, but I would suggest that bringing the practitioner community more into the research that is happening at the universities would certainly help. And I am thrilled to see open journals appearing like Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. This opens up avenues for practitioners who wish to contribute to the intellectual capital of the profession without having to return to the unversity or joining a faculty as an adjunct.

What does Library 2.0 mean to you?

To me Library 2.0 means users interacting with library-related websites they visit, generating their own content that blends seamlessly.

Why are librarians still important?

The infoverse is becoming increasingly complex and we put structure where there is chaos. This is what we have always done and what we will always continue to do. It's sense making. This combined with our service orientation makes us the perfect fit for tackling the infoglut that's out there right now - both online and offline.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights on librarianship with us.

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