A colleague of mine recently asked what search strategies or terms I use when I’m looking for image collections online. My answer? I don’t search. I monitor sites that point toward collections, I ask colleagues, I keep my eyes open when I’m wandering, more or less lost, through the interwebs. Everything I trip over, I bookmark. Strange as it may sound, I don’t think I’ve ever actually searched for a collection. Even stranger, I never realized that I never search for these things until my colleague asked me about it.
Coming to this realization for the first time, I wondered if I’m not really a librarian. Aren’t librarians about search? Isn’t that what we do for our patrons? Isn’t that our unique contribution to the world? And then a wise man wrote unto me, “Search is for losers. Personal networks and contacts are where it’s at.” (Yes, email quoted with permission.)
While I’m not saying that search is dead (Nitzsche and Barthes are much better at such absolutes than I am), and while I know that’s not what Steve was saying either, I’m starting to re-imagine my purpose as a librarian. I’ve just realized that I’m working to become one of those people in the social network that other people go to when they don’t want to search for image collections and other such resources.
And I think this speaks to that perennial question: what role will librarians play in this evolving information world? Expert searcher? Yes. Expert selector? Of course. Key player in social networks? Absolutely. As more and more goes online and as search results get more and more unwieldy, those of us who make it their life’s work to collect, save, and make available the resources we discover will serve a crucial role in the research lives of our patrons.