Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reference in the Small Affluent Library: Outsourcing

Today's Points of Reference post is called Reports from the Front. In it, Mary Ellen Quinn quotes reference librarian Michaela Haberkern about what is happening in reference at the Hinsdale Public Library, my library's next door neighbor. Like Western Springs, Hinsdale is an affluent community with well educated clients with high expectations/low expectations. High in that they want a lot but low in that they suppose sometimes that their small libraries will be insufficient. I was struck by her comment that her clients outsource much of what they do in life: "investing, law, genealogy, cooking." I would add auto repair to that and maybe even child care. If the community is keen on outsourcing, as people are in another neighboring affluent community, Oak Brook, you can see why the idea for outsourcing the library comes up, as it did in Oak Brook. CEOs who have sent millions of jobs overseas live in these communities.

Michaela says that her clients are self-reliant, keeping the reference statistics down. This influences reference budgets, keeping them low. Then with a small collection, you get even fewer questions. This spirals down.

Luckily, we do still have people who love us in our small libraries. Perhaps they can sustain us while we reinvent what we do.

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