Jenna Freedman - Future of Librarians Interview

Jenna Freedman is the Zine Librarian and coordinates reference services at Barnard Library, she is also a librarian for Radical Reference and blogs at Lower East Side Librarian. But let's pretend for a minute that you were not involved in libraries. How do you personally use the library and search for information in general?

I have access to Columbia University's vast circulating collection, and avail myself regularly of books from Barnard and Columbia. I also check out books, videos, and DVDs from my neighborhood branch of the New York Public Library. I go there almost every Saturday and have their weekly schedule memorized, as I do my 14-digit library card number. I use NYPL primarily for leisure reading and viewing.

I use the electronic resources at Columbia for my professional research and to help friends and family with theirs. (FYI Barnard librarians are not faculty, so my professional research is, in a way, personal in that there is no requirement or reward for publishing, presenting, or contributing to the profession.) I use Barnard and Columbia's resources, and also NYPL's to answer questions for Radical Reference. I often use WorldCat.org to refer to books in email messages about this and that.

As to how I search for and access information in general, I'm sorry to get all reference librarian on you, but it depends on the information I need. In the course of a day, I'll use web search engines, search interdisciplinary and subject specific databases, employ IM or the telephone to contact experts, consult reference books (print or online), etc.

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

Same as yesterday and I hope tomorrow - their employees.

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

Employees that don't live up to librarianship's reputation for good service. Administrators who adopt a business "customer service" or IT "technical support" model. The solution is to remember what libraries are here for and what librarians do better than anyone else - serve the information wants and needs of our communities. We are not here to be slick (though we can be), and we are not here to make money (though donors do seem to favor us over dorm rooms and parking garages). If we remember and prioritize our service mission and design our programs, budgets, and buildings based on that, we should be fine.

Is Web 2.0 technology changing your role as a librarian?

It's just adding to my job description, like everything else. I bet the reference librarians of yesteryear griped when they had to add telephone reference to their list of responsibilities.

Although I do blog, tag, and chat, most of the library users with whom I interact (professors and college students at a fairly elite institution affiliated with an Ivy League university, i.e. young, privileged, and smart) don't tend to avail themselves of my attention in those ways. I do have some IM exchanges with students. I've communicated with zinesters and zine researchers, other librarians, and even been contacted by a reporter via MySpace and LiveJournal. However, even with these and other technologies, I don't feel that my role has changed in the six years I've been a librarian. I see my role as being that of listener, teacher, sharer, selector, developer, and strategist. I use any and all appropriate tools to accomplish many goals.

If you had to name a single most important technology to the future of libraries, what would it be? Any additional thoughts on L2, the future of libraries or anything else?

Again, it's not the technologies that are important. It is the people developing, implementing and teaching them. I think technology without humanity is what is going to destroy librarianship. Unless library administrators and communities, as well as society at large can learn to value public service as much as they do shiny new tech tools, the library of the future may replicate the experience of shopping at one of those chain electronics stores where the sales people don't listen, speak only to lie, exaggerate or up-sell, and where you can't get a human on the telephone, but maybe their web interface is pretty good. This, rather than a library, where in addition to a good web interface you've got people with genuine people skills and subject expertise, who aren't working on commission.

Thank you Jenna for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You can keep up with Jenna Freedman at Lower East Side Librarian.

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