Libraries are still a key research service

Much of my work experience over the past 20-odd years has been in libraries. I have worked in both private sector and public sector libraries. Certainly, in the special libraries I have managed, I have been in charge of providing a library and research service to my clients. Over the last ten years, many elements of my work would be described as knowledge management. In nearly all cases, a research service (principally secondary research) has been an important service to clients.

I was therefore delighted to read this comment from Roxanne Missingham, Parliamentary Librarian in Canberra, in the latest issue of inCite. Roxanne says that “for many inquiries from clients collaboration between library staff and researchers is vital for the response”. The Parliamentary Library, where I have myself previously worked, is lucky to have such a strong connection between qualified library professionals and subject researchers. In my experience in special libraries which are generally very small outfits, the library/research function is a combined library function.

The “traditional” library service has usually been about finding things and delivering content in pretty much an unaltered way. The library tradition has been based on physical objects – hard copy – books and periodicals. Today of course we are at the forefront of digital collections of information and digital access.

However, those of us who have worked in special libraries (subject-based libraries) in the past, know that we had to also provide information in context and in meaningful ways to give our clients information more tailored for their specific needs. For example, in the banking industry where I spent a lot of my time, we often focused our research specific to particular deals or for particular investment considerations. In many cases, this took the form of summaries and research briefs, people and company profiles, industry profiles, and linking notes. Linking notes today would not be necessary since hypertext links perform the same function at far greater scale and speed. Today libraries still provide certain research services commensurate with the needs of their clients, their resources, and their expertise.

We have already seen that successful libraries today provide more than just a circulation and lending service. Libraries are using digital technologies to expand the scale and reach of their collections. They are becoming hubs for training, community events, and for adult learning. Libraries are becoming more web 2.0 savvy by using information technologies like blogs, Twitter and Facebook to connect with people and communities. Libraries are thinking more about marketing, about service provision, and in providing advisory services.

For some people, information technologies have been a significant challenge to libraries. There is a view that Google has the answer to everything. Google is a wonderful information resource, but like most tools, one must know how to effectively use it and one must also know its limitations. But Google can only be a challenge if libraries still regard themselves as search and find organisations.

Thankfully, many libraries have risen to the challenge and offer far more than search and find. Libraries are at the forefront of new ideas in content creation and content delivery. Libraries can offer services to help people and organisations organise their information, determine relevant  information technologies, enhance the value of information through networks, and provide advice and services under the umbrella of knowledge management.

And for many libraries, the research function remains a high priority – research that puts information into context for clients to use in meaningful and effective ways. There are opportunities for libraries to engage more with other libraries and other research institutions. Libraries must look beyond their natural “family” and start to look at how linking and partnering with other information-rich organisations can enhance their resource and research functions.

Importantly though, libraries are still integral for research, education, and policy development. Schools, universities, research institutes, and government  could not work effectively without a library and information service. As such, I agree with Roxanne that there is indeed a strong connection between library and research functions – something we need to think about when developing our library strategies and product offerings to our clients.

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