Building a Library with no Librarian

I have come across a number of interesting projects where NGO’s have requested some assistance in regards to managing their “Resource Centre”, “Electronic Documents”, “Information Resources” or in some cases (yes, this buzzword made it over here) “Digital Assets”. Having been working in this ever-evolving field for quite some time, I am always surprised by the fact that people still balk at the idea of using the “L” word to describe these areas. It is not until I mention some of the strategies and solutions that have originated from the “Library” world/community that people finally get it. As my previous mentors have always preached, “Nothing has changed, people are saying the same things but differently”.

Check out the Diamond Shreddies commercial.

Right, back to the topic at hand….

When I arrived at one NGO’s office for my initial site visit assessment, I immediately saw to my left the room that contained the proverbial book shelves, file folders, and magazine file cases/racks etc. that I am so fondly familiar with (the scent of aging books, towering stacks of newspapers and loose leaf articles, and the shimmer of glossy magazines spread out on the coffee table are universal).

And so with slight hesitation, as I dared to ask while subtly wincing to hear the answer, “So, who is in charge of the Resource Centre? Do you have a librarian?

Blank stares and inquisitive looks among staff around…

This has been the common scenario so far. There is no librarian or any staff members who resemble such position but a few key players who organizes the Resource Centre when they have time. As well, management displays the following personas: little to no interest in how the Resource Centre is managed (as long as everything is tidy and in some order); all talk but no action in some cases; or in all fairness recognize it’s importance but have no idea how to manage or utilize it effectively in most cases.

What do you do in situations like these, where you know the organization does not have a dedicated person to manage their their library. Where each staff has a some responsibilities in organising and maintaining the resource but ONLY if they have spare time.

I have also seen many places where there are stacks of materials either randomly placed in designated shelves broadly representing a subject or collecting dust (not a surprise in KTM) and waiting to be processed or even to be read in some cases.

Arggh, the librarian in me is just screaming to get out and wanting to dive in and start cataloguing all their materials.

The solutions and strategies are easy to design and implement – that is only 10% of the project. The other 90% is trying to stir up the organizational will and commitment to dedicate staff and resources that are necessary in order to maintain these information centers. Likewise to similar cases back at home, it would seem that I would have to help management realise the many direct and indirect benefits of having a well-organised library (surfing SLA’s web site and Googling “advocating + library”, “promoting + library”, or “making+a+case+for+your+library” retrieves a fair number of useful resources).

Did mention that in most cases I would have to help design a library solution without the use of computer or any library database package?  The computers that are available are archaically slow, ridden with viruses, and using pirated software as well. Oh the joys of my job!

Photo: a typical Book “Accession Register” used to record books and resources received. It also acts as a hard copy library database.

I truly believe that everyone has a little “librarian” in them, hiding inside wanting to come out. It even doesn’t have to be with books per say but if you are finicky about organising some sort of personal collection, your cooking recipes, or even your closet (heh, I remember my dear friend Erin organises her clothes by colour scheme – genius!), then “You got that Librarian feeling”.

(Whooaa, that LIBRARIAN feeeling…)

That said, there is always someone in an organisation that loves to “organise” something. I can usually spot these potential “librarian Jedi’s” after having quick conversations with them (or by taking a quick a peak at their desk). Once these people have been identified, then it is just a matter of time, good coaching and nurturing for them to see and develop their librarian potential.