The Passive and Active Library
There is a trend underfoot. Libraries are moving away from being a passive to more active.
By passive, I don't mean that the librarians or staff were passive and just twiddling their thumbs. I mean that in the past the vast majority of library resources were housed within the library. Books, journals, databases, etc. were all inside the library. There wasn't electronic access. It wasn't too long ago that our databases were on CDs loaded on to individual computers. Even the most active and outgoing librarian who conducted many outreach programs, participated in grand rounds, taught educational sessions, and knew every patron's name still had a passive library, because the patrons had to come to the library to use the resources. The patrons were more active in their research, they came to the library, because they had to.
Now libraries are now becoming more active and the patrons are becoming more passive. With advances in technology a library's collection is no longer restricted to the confines of the library's physical space. The Internet allows librarians to create web pages to showcase resources. IP validation and open URL resolvers make it so anybody on the institution's network (physically or remotely) can access library resources. Patrons don't even need to be searching the library databases to get connected to the library's online collection. A Google search could bring up results from BMJ, JAMA, NEJM, or any other online journal and thanks to the "miracle" of institutional subscriptions and IP validation, the patron can get the full text without even realizing they were using the library. Essentially it is more like the library resources coming to the patron instead of the patron coming to the library, and I haven't even touched upon all the 2.0 technology tools which are supposed to reach out to the patron even more so.
Why is this such a big deal? Well the reason is that we are in the middle of a generation shift within the workplace. Ellen Detlefsen in MLA News (members only) writes about this generation shift within the library workforce. This is also applies to the library users as well. Seniors are defined as being born between 1925-1945. Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964. Gen Xers were born between 1965-1980 and Millennials were born between 1981-2000. Now if my math is right, we have large chunk Gen X doctors and nurses working in our hospitals, and depending on their age and their chosen profession we have some Millenials too. The oldest Millenial is 28 years old. The vast majority of medical students straight out of undergraduate studies are Millenials. The oldest of the Boomers is 63 years old and looking towards retirement, maybe not in this year with the economy, but sooner than the Gen Xers.
So we have younger patrons, why is this such a big deal. This happens every generation. True, and with each generation are changes in society and technology that the previous generation did not experience. This is very noticeable right now the relationship our patrons have with technology. According to Forrester Research, technology is pervasive the life of a Millennial, using multiple communication devices is essential, and technology replaces the workaholic style.
Millenials are used to receiving information quickly from multiple sources and like process it immediately and have little tolerance for delays and expect speed from the Web. Older workers would rather receive information linearly, think about, digest it and have more patience when dealing with the Web and technology. If you think about it, this is how they use the library and search for information. You all have seen it, the resident who jumps onto Google stating they just need one quick good article on a topic. If they use the library for this, they are in and out of there and off to their next thing before you can glance at their badge to learn their name. Millennial patrons want information more at their finger tips, they don't want to have to go and get it. If they could upload information like the characters in The Matrix, I think many would think the giant plug in the back of their head would be an adequate trade off.
As our patron population has become more passive, preferring information to come to them or at least obscenely easy to find, our libraries have become more active by pushing access to resources beyond the physical boundaries and either finding patrons (RSS feeds) or making access easier.