Thursday, September 21, 2006

Readers' Advisory...Where?

If you read our stuff regularly you know we infrequently go on about things happening in our personal lives (although maybe we'd beat Lorcan in the ratings if we did?) but here's a situation when my personal life crosses over into my professional one.

A very dear friend of mine, J, has a 13 year old child, O, who was just diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Besides being as distressed by this as you'd imagine any friend would be, I have a bigger interest. I had Hodgkins as well, at 20. This cancer is one with an excellent prognosis but the treatments are still onerous and debilitating often, stretching out over about a year.

I wasn't a librarian when I was treated but I was curious and I searched out whatever I could on my specific cancer as well as anything that would have helped me, as a young person, cope with being seriously ill. I looked, too, for information on what I could expect after I was well again. What effect would chemotherapy have on me over the long term? Radiation? There was nothing.

When J told family and friends about O, I went into librarian mode....what reading material could I find that O would find inspirational, informational and just helpful? I wasn't even looking for books that featured 13 year olds with Hodgkins....just about young ill people or young people facing stressful situations.

Maybe my searching skills are inadequate but I found little. Amazon has its recommended lists, contributed by readers, and it has ways of slicing and dicing its database. But nothing was really appropriate.

Now, I know that out there, in Libraryland, are a whole host of childrens' librarians and YA librarians who have some very good ideas and suggestions about good things for O to read. But where are they? Why, in a world where the "architecture of participation" has allowed for all sorts of constituencies to build ways to communicate with like minded souls am I cut off from my knowledgable colleagues?

I, unlike many people in the communities we serve, know darn well there are lots of librarians with deep knowledge of content areas. Perhaps that makes my frustration level more acute because I know this and know too that we as a profession are (at least publically) spending more time explaining why we're trying to beat Google, or why we're better than Google, than we are just building ways to surface the incredible knowledge and expertise we have as a professional community.

An example here in a whole issue of a journal devoted to "Google vs Us." (I am linking you to a blog post because the publisher site is impossible) about all those clever authors focus on ways to integrate library services into peoples' real lives, or on connecting me to librarian experts when I need to know what to recommend to a sick 13 year old?

Cranky? Yes, I am tonight. I talked to J this afternoon, and she was tired and sad, as you might expect. J and O live in a city with a fabulous library system, but, no surprise, going to the library is not on their "to do" list right now. I would have liked to have been able to tell her how she and O could look at recommendations on their computer from real librarians for good things to read, at home, but I can't. All the experts are locked up in boxes.


rochelle said...

Alane--thank you for your cranky post. It's quite timely for me, and now required reading for my staff. After a frustrating encounter with a group of high school teachers this week, I decided that our main goal for next year was to increase community awareness of what we do as an information services department. I don't care about ref stats or door or circ counts. When someone gets a diagnosis of autism for their child, I would somehow like for them to find out that they have a reference librarian who can point them in the right direction because of her own expertise. I have raised eyebrows for daring to share my personal story and expertise with patrons--it's a big no-no in reference how-to texts. But those have been some of the most useful, mutually satisfying exchanges of my career.

Be cranky. Tell the truth, sister! Thanks--rochelle

lukethelibrarian said...

Not that I'm on either side here, but I think it's important to be fair: the theme of the IRSQ issue that you refer to is "Libraries and Google," not "Libraries vs. Google." Big difference -- and I think well-evidenced by the table of contents. Yes, there are a few titles such as "The (Uncertain) Future of Libraries in a Google World: Sounding an Alarm" [blecch] but there are also plenty that look pretty enlightened, such as "Using the Google Search Appliance for Federated Searching: A Case Study," "Calling the Scholars Home: Google Scholar as a Tool for Rediscovering the Academic Library," and "Optimising Publications for Google Users," among others. Certainly, the publisher could take a few lessons about being web-friendly, but many of the articles' authors are really thinking about exactly what you want: integrating library services into people's real lives, as well as integrating the most current and widespread search tools with our library services.