What role does technology play in the relationship information agencies develop with their users?
Technology was a common theme in the presentations of information agencies across a broad spectrum in the Sydney 2 study visit session. The uses of technology within the information agencies were integral to the relationship each agency had with its users. Though different uses of technology developed different aspects of the relationship between agency and user, one of the key roles played by technology was that of “connecting”. Technology used by information agencies connects users: to information; to personalised expert help; to the selection process; and to community. These connections create, change and develop various relationships between agency and user.
Technology connects users to information held by information agencies. Furthermore, technology has enabled the location for information exchange to no longer be confined to the library’s physical location, but rather freed in a new virtual mode of relationship between agency and user. Many of the information agencies on the Sydney 2 itinerary had online public access catalogues (OPACs) and e-Resource collections and had digitised selected items from their collections. Providing round-the-clock access to information and resources online extended the reach of these agencies, both geographically and temporally. This enabled them to forge relationships with users that they would not have had contact with otherwise due to distance or time constraints on users’ ability to physically access the library during opening hours.
For instance, the Caroline Simpson Library of the Sydney Living Museums has been contacted by users from around the globe in search of rare items that they have made available through their OPAC and through digitised items hosted on the Internet Archive (M. Stephens, personal communication, October 1, 2019). This interest from abroad in a small, specialised library whose main purpose is to provide support for the interpretation of historical houses would have been almost unheard of in the pre-Internet era. Woollahra Library owes approximately 10% of its circulation to e-Resources. It reports that a significant and growing number of its active membership maintains an exclusively virtual relationship with the library – never setting foot in any of the three physical branch locations (V. Munro, personal communication, October 2, 2019). Those are just two ways that we see technology connecting users to information and developing geographically extended and virtual relationships between information agencies and their users.
This virtual relationship has changed some of the collection management practices of information agencies from “just-in-case” models, where resources are acquired and held by the agency so they are present just in case a user needs them, to “just-in-time” models, where eResources can be acquired instantaneously (or nearly so) and made available to a user just in time to meet their need (Neatrour, Callaway, & Cummings, 2018, p. 8). This is an example of technology connecting users to the selection process.
When technology connects users to the selection process, it changes the relationship between users and agencies from dependence to partnership. The Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) Library (personal communication, October 2, 2019) and Sydney University Library (personal communication, October 3, 2019) both experimented with a patron-driven-acquisition model for the Kanopy audio-visual streaming service whereby three instances of users viewing any program for more than 30 seconds continuously would trigger a purchase of the program (AFTRS Library, personal communication, October 2, 2019). Both agencies found, as others have before them (Lukes, Margren, & Thorpe, 2016, pp. 112- 113), that this pure patron-driven-acquisitions model led to a rapid blowout of their budgets. Sydney University Libraries have moved to an evidence-based-acquisition model with a set 12-month expenditure (personal communication, October 3, 2019), and AFTRS have opted for a model using librarian selected titles, guided by user suggestions (personal communication, October 2, 2019). Therefore users are still connected to the selection process, though not directly and instantaneously, and users and agencies relate with increased partnership when compared to traditional resource selection models.
Technology also facilitates the connection of users to expert information through the development of
a more personal relationship between users and the agency and a more proactive relationship between agencies and their users. This is accomplished by using self-service RFID technology for circulation and return of items, and OPACs with access to various online datasbases and streaming services for initial search processes. This frees the expert staff to give assistance, whether at designated stations (Sydney Uni, personal communication, October 3, 2019) or by roaming throughout the library (V. Munro, personal communication, October 2, 2019). Freeing the frontline staff from routine circulation and return duties gives them more
time to serve users on a one-to-one basis, making the relationship more personal. In the case of Woollahra Library, where the librarians then roam the library to be more approachable and accessible (V. Munro, personal communication, October 2, 2019), it also makes the agency’s relationship with users more proactive.
Another common thread amongst information agencies was the trend towards digitising portions of the collection and making them available online, through the agencies’ own websites or OPACs, through catalogue aggregators like Trove, or digital libraries like the Internet Archive. This practice allows information agencies to provide access to rare, fragile, or unwieldy items while minimising the handling of those items to facilitate longer-term preservation of them (Matusiak & Johnston, 2014). This brings us to the next connection that is enabled by technology use.
Technology connects users to their community, developing a richer and more contextualised relationship between users and information agencies. Providing access to digitised items is one way that agencies connect users to their communities. Woollahra Library has started digitising its local history collection, this access – combined with increased opening hours and staff presence for the collection – has enabled many users to connect with their personal and community histories (Woollahra Library, personal communication, October 2, 2019).
Jessie Street Women’s Library has also used digitisation as a way to minimise handling of their poster collection while providing broader access. This effort has actually created stronger ties with the poster-creating community, resulting in donations of more posters and strengthening the library’s collection (Jessie Street Women’s Library, personal communication, October 3, 2019). Libraries such as Woollahra (personal communication, October 2, 2019) and Jessie Street Women’s Library (personal communication, October 3, 2019) also use social media, their library websites, and targeted e-mails to tell digital stories and advertise library events that bring their user communities together. These uses of technology connect users with the community in multi-faceted ways, creating a rich, contextual relationship between user and information agency.
Therefore, through the experiences of information agencies participating in the Sydney 2 study visit we can see the connecting role of technology. Through this multi-faceted connecting role technology facilitates relationships between users and information agencies that are more extended, virtual, partnership-oriented, more proactive, richer and highly contextualised.
The study visits contextualised my coursework through the observation of real world examples. An area of learning that was brought to life for me was the relevance of leadership theory material to my practice as a teacher librarian – particularly the evaluation of corporate cultures, library networking and promotion, and establishing my personal network with colleagues.
Seeing the differences between large, established organisations like Sydney University Libraries, Ultimo TAFE Library, and State Library New South Wales gave me real-world insight into the difference that corporate cultures and leadership styles can have on the direction of information agencies. To my eye, these organisations occupied a continuum of responsiveness to users and resilience for change ranging from Sydney University Libraries at the most conservative end and Ultimo TAFE at the most flexible. I could see the potential for applying theories of leadership styles and change management from ETL504 to understanding the workings of these institutions much more clearly than I have been able to do in relation to my small primary school.
I was impressed with the user-responsiveness and community networking of the Woollahra Library and Jessie Street Women’s Library in particular. Their engagement with their respective communities and use of technology and digital storytelling to network with their users inspired me. Library promotion and community involvement are two areas that I would like to focus on in my practice. Seeing the example of these two libraries that are within my local area and being able to make connections with staff there was a helpful step on that journey for me.
Finally, meeting classmates and instructors in person helped to strengthen my personal learning network and community of support. Even though I have connected extensively with classmates online, meeting in person adds an extra dimension to those relationships. I believe that these meetings have helped to strengthen existing ties and begun forging new bonds that will continue beyond this course to support, encourage, and challenge me in my ongoing practice of teacher librarianship.
Lukes, R., Markgren, S., & Thorpe, A. (2016). E-book collection development: Formalizing a policy for smaller libraries. The Serials Librarian, 70, 106 – 115. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2016.1153329
Matusiak, K. K., & Johnston, T. K. (2014). Digitization for preservation and access: Restoring the usefulness of the nitrate negative collections at the American Geographical Society library. The American Archivist, 77(1), pp. 241-269. Retrieved from httpds://www.jstor.org/stable/43489592
Neatrour, A. L., Callaway, E., & Cummings, R. (2018). Kindles, card catalogs, and the future of libraries: a collaborative digital humanities project. Digital Library Perspectives. doi:10.1108/DLP-02-2018-0004