1998 Presentation Has Held Up Well

As I was preparing for my class this week I came across some notes from a presentation that I had put in the folder, probably intending to use at some point, but long forgotten. This particular presentation was by James Neal and it was from 1998. Neal, who is now heading up library operations at Columbia University was still at Johns Hopkins’ Sheridan Librarian at that time, and they were involved in some unique entrepreneurial enterprises. As I re-read the notes I thought that much of what Neal discussed or predicted then reflected many contemporary issues that academic librarians are confronting now. For example, he discussed societal and cultural change that we needed to understand. Here are a few items mentioned:

  • Wireless will change how we compute and work
  • -mobile computing has had an enormous impact

  • MTV generation
  • -new modes of learning and the importance of user participation (sounds a bit like our current discussion of Millennials and Library 2.0)

  • ATM Environment
  • -self-initiated services are now routinely offered in academic libraries

  • User Expectation Revolution
  • -this one was right on target; this is the age of the user experience and it’s defined by users expecting simplicity, ease of use, and “if it’s not online it doesn’t exist” (which are the exact words he used to define what he meant)

    I was also intrigued that I had written some notes about new staff in academic libraries. Even then Neal was talking about academic libraries needing new professionals that would not necessarily be librarians, but who would bring to the library systems and learning skills that librarians were lacking. It’s interesting that Neal was thinking about this back then, and is now involving many different kinds of non-librarian professionals at Columbia (see his Library Journal article on feral professionals).

    So I thought what Neal had to say way back in 1998 has held up pretty well – and he gave some good advice for the future librarian in the digital age. Among those that still make sense:

  • Understand user behavior
  • - (little did we know how much Google would impact search behavior)

  • We’re in the teaching/scholarship/personal (user) development business
  • – a good philosophy for librarians that wish to avoid being marginalized

    It was certainly good to come across this old talk. I found it enlightening and informative back then, and while lots of things have changed since 1998 one thing that hasn’t is the value of what Neal shared with us that day.

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