David Lee King - Future of Librarians Interview

David Lee King is the Digital Branch & Services Manager at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, he's written and spoken at conferences about websites, digital experience, working with techies and other technology-library related topics. He blogs at David Lee King and the video blog ETC.

Now let's pretend for a minute that you were not involved in libraries. How do you personally use the library? How do you search for and access information in general?

Wow - that's a hard question to answer, because I now know "the right way' to do things! But... if I wasn't a librarian, I'd certainly still use the library - I'm all about reading, listening, viewing and not having to pay for it - that's a huge convenience. I would definitely place holds online, and in Topeka, I'd get those holds delivered via mail (that's how my library delivers all holds/reserve items). I would also make frequent trips to the library to browse the shelves for books and music that interested me.

When searching online, I tend to use Google, Google's blog search, and Technorati first. If I don't find what I want that way, then I'll hunt down an alternative search engine or a more specific database.

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

I think of a library as an information and a community portal. I nformation as in books, magazines, music, videos, online content, etc. We're all about filtering the best content for our communities. That's done through a good selection process, and also via talented library staff who know how to get 110% out of the information they can access.

The community part (besides where I mentioned it above) is interesting. For example, my library has thousands of public meetings scheduled each year - we have, in effect, turned into a community hub. We are a gathering place for the community. We even have plans to make our website more social, too, so both our physical AND digital spaces can be community gathering places.

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

Without a doubt, it's librarians/library staff that refuse to change. That's a huge problem right now. Some of it is generational, but certainly not all. However, I really feel that our library/information world is in the midst of a revolution - Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and similar emerging digital and physical trends are changing the way our customers interact with us. Because of that, we need to be highly adaptable. And some of us have a hard time with that.

What can we do? There are a few things we can do. We can train our staff appropriately. We don't need training on how to use Microsoft Word - we need training on how to effectively write for our audience. We don't need training on searching a new database - we need training on how to market that new database to small business owners in our communities.

We can also work on hiring the best people for the jobs, and working on the HR end to remove staff that continually refuse to change. That might sound harsh, but think about it - in the business world, if you refused to change you'd quickly be out of a job. It should be the same in the library world.

Okay, you can put the gloves back on. What are the biggest challenges to libraries, and librarians' jobs? How can they be overcome?

One challenge, I think, was discussed in the last question. The other one is how to harness our collective library/information skills and effectively market them to our local communities. Remember how I mentioned at the beginning of this that I like libraries because of all the free stuff I get to use (books, videos, etc)? I think that if libraries effectively marketed themselves to their communities, our main problem would be one of crowd management! Libraries have an amazing amount of content and expertise to be had - but no one knows about it.

How to overcome this? Start figuring out how to get the library out of the building - marketing, visiting, speaking, etc. Spread the word!

So why are librarians still important?

We are still one of the few social places one can gather, tell stories, and create stories. People will always be attracted to that type of space. And, of course, we have free stuff :-)

Thank you David for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! You can keep up to date with David's latest thoughts by reading his blog, DavidLeeKing.com

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