The Return of the Librarians

By Teresa Koltzenburg |

I found my way to San Jose, and I just finished up the opening session here at LITA. Roy Tennant's session, "Googlezon Episode IV: Return of the Librarians," was certainly memorable. Of course, the content of his session was engaging (he began with a cool little PowerPoint presentation that jocularly—or maybe not—predicts the merger of Google and Amazon in the not-so-distant future). But not too long after Mr. Tennant pointed out the beautiful, and very LARGE, glass-blown chandeliers fixed to the ballroom-ceiling above us here in Earthquake Country, an "evacuate" alarm sent us out of the building. False alarm, thank goodness, but still a memorable way to begin.

The gist of Tennant's session: With popular information-finding mechanisms provided by the Googles and Amazons of the world, the library institution has faced no greater challenge as a profession since the advent of computers. But, according to Tennant, there is hope: If we can't beat 'em, we should join 'em.

"Be user focused," he says. "[Make your institution capable] of being where your users are," which, more and more these days, is on Google, Yahoo!, or Amazon. Tennant explains: "Take [that] concept and run. We are surrounded by good, effective systems."

Tennant points to RLG's RedLightGreen (a "project designed specifically for undergraduates using the Web—and the libraries that support them") as a new, more user-centric tool, created as a result of its developers listening to users and integrating that information into a familiar information-finding mechanism (RedLightGreen features that simple, single search field that Google so effectively employed at its outset).

The challenge for libraries, he adds, is to listen to the user community (and there are many types of user communities) and not necessarily be user driven, but utilize information about user needs—whether it be from usability projects or from just everyday conversation—and integrate this with librarians' collective, immeasurable knowledge of information searching/organization, and then develop more compelling information-finding systems. "We want to minimize users' pain," Tennant explains.

More compelling than Google? Seems impossible, especially since Google is sitting on billions, and many libraries are engaged in fighting for funding to just keep the doors open.

But Tennant predicts that librarians will emerge victorious. "Although [we don't have that kind of money], we have people. Librarians are focused on the long haul, and I believe we will rise to challenge."

Check out the LITA Blog for regular updates from this Forum. Shoughton has much more thorough coverage of Tennant's presentation here.