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Beyond the database: Digital services enabling patrons’ success

Mar 13, 2012

Elsevier’s 14th annual Digital Libraries Symposium was held during the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association in Dallas on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. More than 150 librarians heard a panel discuss “Beyond the Database: Digital Services Enabling Patrons’ Success,” which focused on how digital services supported by the library helped patrons achieve their goals. Below is a synopsis of the panelists’ remarks.

Steven Smith
Libraries Dean
University of Tennessee

Smith closed out the DLS by discussing why universities and their libraries need to invest in innovative services. He pointed out these investments not only help control future costs, but also “push the boundaries of the digital frontier to help support the teaching and research infrastructure.” When it comes to instituting these innovative services at the library, he stressed that today’s students expect customizable, quick and fluid services since they are more collaborative and technologically savvy than ever before. However, he said, when libraries create the services, they must consider the points of view of library staff, students, professors and other library stakeholders and patrons.

Digital services were the focus of his talk, but Smith was quick to point out that attendees should never overlook the library’s role as a social outlet for students.

Rudy Leon
Technology Training and Outreach Librarian
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Follow Rudy on Twitter: @Rudibrarian

While discussing 21st-century skills library staff members need, Rudy Leon had a simple but important message for her librarian peers: Everything is changing. With that in mind, the 21st-century skills she discussed are not only vital, but basically required if librarians are going to ensure the success of today’s patrons. The skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Flexibility
  • Contextual thinking, systems thinking
  • Collaboration, teamwork
  • Curiosity
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Effective communication

According to Leon, the half-life of a given skill is now less than five years. It used to be 10-15 years. With this in mind, she stressed, these 21st-century skills can’t be taught. Referencing John Seely Brown, Leon said these skills must be fostered, mentored and allowed to flourish in the library. As part of this, learning should be part of every day for library staff members.

Jason Casden
Digital Technologies Development Librarian
North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries

Casden presented “In Context: Case Studies in Integrated Physical and Virtual Library Service Design,” which focused on three projects launched by the NCSU Libraries: Library Course Tools, WolfWalk and Suma. While the three projects serve different purposes (see quick click below for more on the NCSU library applications), they all stand as testaments to a tighter integration between virtual and physical services. Although collaborative work has been key to the success of all of these projects, Casden warned about some complicating factors libraries may face when undertaking such projects, such as hidden costs of broader collaboration, competing priorities, and the need to work with legacy systems.

As NCSU continues to leverage technology to benefit its patrons, Casden told the DLS attendees that upcoming projects and enhancements at the NCSU Libraries will include more uniform data collection and analysis, mobile reference services, and targeted and experimental space and service design.