So as a participant and future presenter in the Research Now effort, I’ve been contemplating our collective experiences and what we’re getting out of this that we can use in Scholars’ Commons. We don’t really know what folks are going to want or need when they come into this new space. They may not know either. What we do know is that we want to be prepared to go beyond what we currently offer in reference services. We want to be able to help people do things instead of just help them find things. Michael Courtney, Outreach and Engagement Librarian with Teaching & Learning, just presented to our group on the history of reference services and the cycles of questioning the value and purpose of reference through the history of the modern library. Initially the idea of providing personal help to patrons was controversial, with the idea being that librarians should develop tools that patrons can use to find information for themselves (reference books and physical indexes). Instructional librarianship and subject librarian specialties developed after that which lend themselves to that idea of personal interaction and being an intermediary between the patron and the resource. With the introduction of online resources we find ourselves back at the idea of patrons doing it for themselves and librarians are behind the scenes providing tools (online this time). However, if a person needs help not only to find information for research purposes but also to do something or create something with that research, how do they figure out what to do or where to start?
To me, that is where the Scholars’ Commons fits in. I imagine this space as a place where you can ask how best to put your research data online just as easily as you ask how to find a book. You can come in with a research idea and leave with options beyond sources to investigate. We can help in that mystery space where you wonder, “what can this become?” The way we can prepare for this is to expose ourselves to the options that are out there: learn about the best ways to communicate and share online, learn how to stay in touch with emerging technologies and how to tell what’s worth using and what isn’t.
A lot of this requires skills that all Reference Librarians already have: knowing how to communicate, ask questions and interview to learn what a person is really trying to figure out (not just the question being asked), and be resourceful in the help provided. The new skills that come into play are some literal new technologies that haven’t been commonplace things for the reference desk to handle (such as scanning specs for preservation-level digitization, how to start an online blog/website, how to create and advertise an online survey). This also reinforces the idea of librarians as research partners. We can help not by doing the research or by pointing to an IU Knowledge Base article on how to use technology, but by being a sounding board and suggesting tools for trying to make something.
We are taking the collective plunge and working on a collection of our own that we want to digitize, preserve, place online, and share with the world. We are figuring out that we have a story to tell and learning what it takes to share that story online and present that information so that it is still useful in the future. We are practicing being the researchers we imagine will be the faculty and students in the Scholars’ Commons. The things we are doing now inform how we can help. And the more we can help and support research needs at Indiana University, the stronger our academic community will become.