Nicole Engard - Future of Librarians Interview

Nicole Engard is a Metadata Librarian at Princeton Theological Seminary and the mind behind What I Learned Today, a blog in which she shares her tips and tricks with others. But could you tell us a little bit about yourself, for readers who may not know about you and your work?

I am the perfect example of the accidental librarian. I graduated from Juniata College with grand plans of working for a big web design firm, but ended up in a library because the big firms all wanted years of experience. That said, I fell in love almost immediately with working in the library and have been passionate about moving the library forward for the last 6 years. I am probably best known to the library world for my work on the Jenkins Law Library intranet (check out the photos). This site was developed almost entirely in house to meet the needs of the Jenkins staff. I have made it so that all communication and collaboration can take place on our intranet. My other passions include continuing ed for librarians and any technology that will enable our staff to work more productively. That's why I started my blog.

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?

When I was younger, I would order books in the mail from my library on a regular basis. I would go to the local university library to do research for school projects, and I loved searching the catalog and finding resources. I was always the one with the longest bibliography because I just wanted to read everything I could on the topic. Now, I have to admit, I don't got to my local library much at all. When I have to do personal research (contractors, real estate, home stuff) I use my neighbors first and the web second. For fiction, I prefer going to the bookstore and browsing through the shelves. For nonfiction, I like having the book to own so that I can refer back to it at a later date.

Then what are the most useful features of libraries today?

While this doesn't apply to me personally, I find that the computers in my public library are always busy! Public libraries are a great tool for community members who may not have the personal resources to afford a computer or high-speed Internet to access information with the rest of us. I also love the community events that libraries hold. There are always classes, information sessions, and general community building events available at public libraries (at least in my area).

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

Technology, technology, technology! Right now, this is the biggest challenge for libraries and librarians. Many librarians lack the proper training with today's technologies (either through their own fear or through the lack of funding available at their library) and this causes all kinds of barriers between our patrons and us. There are community leaders out there writing to their local papers to say that libraries are not necessary - that average people using Internet cafes can do everything we (librarians) can.

We need to get out there and show the world that libraries are not just about information and books; we are about finding the right information - trustworthy information. Technology also has to be incorporated into our work lives in such a way that it doesn't eliminate the most important part of libraries - the people; us - the librarians. We need to get where our users are but keep that human touch because I think that's our biggest strength. Libraries are also part of our culture, our communities. If you looked, you probably could not find one person who doesn't have some memory of a library or librarian. Libraries have been great as community centers and can continue to do so by just adding a few new programs to their calendar - and trying to reach a slightly wider/changing audience.

What is the future of libraries, and what does Library 2.0 mean to you?

To me, the future of libraries is not going to be much different from libraries of today. Libraries are always going to be a part of our culture, our cities, our schools, etc. They're just going to provide their services in a slightly different way. This is where Library 2.0 comes in. There are a few quotes I've read/heard over the last year or so regarding 2.0 that are really great.

I agree that a lot of what people say is "Library 2.0" is what librarians have been doing all along - but I like the idea of coming in and giving a fresh look and a fresh face. I hope that it encourages librarians to look at their careers and their libraries and say - hey did we lose track of our original goal? Because I think that's the case in a lot of libraries (and all careers for that matter) we get into a rut, we get used to the way things are and then we're bombarded with change all at once - only because we weren't paying attention all along.

Library 2.0 for me is a about a library where the professionals are flexible. This does not just mean flexible to change, but flexible to allow the users to help with our work. We are in a time where the self-service is everywhere - you can even check yourself out at the grocery store!! And users expect this model to apply to all areas of their lives - I know I do. So, what harm is there in letting them comment on our websites? Add tags, comments, reviews to our catalogs? Check themselves out?

What would your ideal workplace look like? What technologies would be available, and what sort of collaborative, Library 2.0 interactions would you like to see taking place?

While technology is central to what I do and a great passion of mine - it's not something I think of first when I imagine my ideal workplace. My ideal workplace is one where the people are amiable to change! Again, it's all about people. I want to work among innovators and self-starters. I'd love to be someplace where all staff members are encouraged to speak their ideas without any fear of reprimand or micro-management. If I am in that environment then the technologies are sure to follow.

In a workplace like that, I foresee technology to be very similar to where I am now - a central website where we can all collaborate together no matter where we're placed in the library. The use of IM to ask quick questions instead of picking up the phone for a full-blown conversation. The ability to edit each other's work and see the changes instantaneously. All of which will make people feel involved in decisions and keep people connected within the library.

How would you say your work with Web 2.0 technology directly affects library users, and the creation of a community around Web 2.0 technology?

To be honest, I don't know that it has yet. The intranet was an experiment and a learning tool. It was a way to get the staff used to using 2.0 tools and collaborating with others online. In the future, I hope to transfer these tools to our public site and include our users in the processes within the library. Right now, I'm very vocal about including the users in our daily activities and I'm very vocal about the need to let down our guard and trust the users more - but that's about it. Ask me again in a year and I'll be able to give you a better answer.

Thank you Nicole for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! Again, Nicole Engard can be found blogging at What I Learned Today.

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