Government libraries vary just as much as public and academic libraries do in terms of size and audience.1 Some are tiny and have a narrow scope, such as the apparently volunteer-run NCTC Conservation Library, whereas others, like the Library of Congress, are large.2 Still others function more as academic or public libraries. Military base libraries, for example, are meant to support active duty members, their families, base staff, retired military members, and even military school students and local people in all their information and entertainment needs. In fact, a large number of public and academic libraries serve partially as government libraries through their function of federal depositories. Therefore, it makes sense that each has a radically different membership to serve. A university that functions as a federal depository may serve students, faculty, and researchers of its usual community, but the depository also serves the general public of the area, local government, and other libraries. Meanwhile, the NCTC serves NCTC staff, students, Aramark employees, FWS employees, and visiting scholars, although some of the collections and services are available to the general public as well.3 Each, however, shares the common goal of attempting to serve its particular communities as well as possible.
This is obviously a wide range of member communities to deal with, even for a single library. What skills can unite such a wide range of member needs and library types? In other words, what does one need to be able to serve these communities? The Federal Library and Information Center Committee (FLICC) has produced a document of federal librarian competencies, which attempts to outline this. The paper’s sections for “Program Development and Outreach” and “Customer Education and Training,” which are most relevant to basing services off one’s community, suggest that an expert (the highest level of competency) should be able to do the following:
Program Development and Outreach
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and adapt the principles and practices of program and event planning and development.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and adapt the principles and practices of outreach to existing and potential clienteles.
• Demonstrates ability to develop, evaluate, and support alliances and collaborative relationships in program development and outreach.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and stratify existing and potential clienteles to customize programs and outreach.4
Customer Education and Training
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate bibliographic instruction outcomes and adapt delivery methods.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate information literacy programs’ outcomes and adapt them.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and select standard or emerging training and instructional techniques.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and select or design the library’s instructional materials.
• Demonstrates ability to evaluate and select or create education and training delivery methodologies.
• Demonstrates ability to create and evaluate the library’s education and training products, services, and programs.
• Demonstrates ability to apply understanding of diverse learning styles to evaluate efficacy of education and training programs.
• Demonstrates ability to plan, implement, evaluate, and adapt library educational and training programs.5
All of these skills are about tailoring current practices elsewhere in the field to the librarian’s particular environment and customer base. Unfortunately, the FLICC does not see the ability to create something entirely new to fit what the “customers” need, and to jettison current best practices elsewhere if they do not fit the members’ needs, as an important skill. The biggest problem I see with these competencies, however, is that they do not mention discussing changes or decisions with the members at all, but merely applying theory of learning styles to what is done; and are focused solely on programming and teaching styles. It lists no changes of how the library works as a whole to accomplish these goals.
At the same time, these skills are basic enough to be listed as the core competencies for librarians in any setting. This is understandable because federal libraries alone are so diverse. The document recognizes this, stating, “The expectation is that the competencies will be helpful to others beyond the federal librarian community including human resource professionals, information technology peers and partners, executive level management, policy-makers, product developers and the vendor community, educational institutions, and certifying entities, as well as other information professionals.”6 Yet there is no mention of creating a dialog with the library members to discuss how to best change things. This seems to fly in the face of what the Department of Justice Law Libraries did because to know what their members needed, much conversation was required; even more was required to reach the point where the members relied heavily on what the librarians could find and trusted them to find the right information without even checking the catalog resources. Nor is there mention of working with other library types to create better services for shared communities despite the fact that government libraries often share the same audiences as local, public, academic, and special libraries—and despite the document’s own mention of borrowing best practices. Without a dialog, how will those best practices be properly implemented in the first place, and how will anyone know how they were tweaked so that the profession as a whole can seek out better “best” practices? Essentially, the basic skills of serving a populace are in place within these core competencies, but the issue of communication and creating services when needed, rather than tailoring them out of old best practices, are ignored.
So, how do other libraries stack up against this document and against the Atlas’ call for wholly serving one’s community? To check, the Web sites of several different government libraries were examined to see how each library is currently working to actively serve its members.
The Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center for Air University is, obviously, academic in nature.7 It appears to be doing a good job of targeting its audience and getting conversations started even in the online sphere. There is a section entitled, “Featured New Books,” directly on the homepage, which shows the book’s cover and gives a short description. Clicking on the item unfortunately leads to only the catalog record for the book, which doesn’t exactly invite discussion. However, the featured new books are each about main topics the students deal with and are a way of making the library relevant to their needs outside of the classroom. In addition, there are links on the side for the Text a Librarian and downloadable audio book projects, both of which show an attempt to connect to the members on their own level and through the means of communication they most often use. There’s also a main sidebar for members to “make a comment,” which leads to a short online form for making suggestions. 8 Unfortunately, every line must be filled out for the form to be processed, and there is no ability to remain anonymous. These requirements make it harder for people to quickly point out issues they have with the library or a simple service they wish was there. They also dissuade sending in complaints or asking for new services because the member’s name and rank is on file. Programming is not advertised or even mentioned in any detail, leaving the library’s services beyond the basic (book circulation, practice rooms, ILL) in question.9
The Wirtz Labor Library serves both Department of Labor employees and the general public with information regarding labor, both current and historical. The main page is simple and direct, stating what the library does and whom it serves, along with how members can use the online Web site, with major topics hyperlinked for easy access. The main resource sections (labor law library, law tips archive, Internet bibliographies, etc.) are also hyperlinked in a side bar; each leads to a more specific catalog or information regarding that service/collection. Although this is a traditional library portal, it seems to do a good job in serving its members by providing clear directions on how to access the information they are looking for. Unfortunately, the in-house services are not mentioned on the Web site, so people are more likely to simply use the Web site rather than seek out the physical location.
Air University. United States Air Force Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center. Retrieved from http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/lane.htm
Federal librarian competencies. (2008, October). FLICC. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/flicc/publications/Lib_Compt/Lib_Compt_Oct2008.pdf
U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Wirtz Labor Library. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/oasam/library
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. (2009). About the Conservation Library. National conservation training center. Retrieved from http://library.fws.gov/About.html
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. (2009). National Conservation Training Center. National Conservation Training Center. Retrieved from http://library.fws.gov
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. (2009). FWS/open access publications. National Conservation Training Center. Retrieved from http://library.fws.gov/FWSOpenAccess.html
1. To see the range, see http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Reference_Shelf/Libraries.shtml#U
2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. “National Conservation Training Center.” National Conservation Training Center. 15 July 2009. http://library.fws.gov
3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. “About the Conservation Library.” National Conservation Training Center. 15 July 2009. http://library.fws.gov/About.html; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Library. “FWS/Open Access Publications.” National Conservation Training Center. 15 July 2009. http://library.fws.gov/FWSOpenAccess.html
4. FLICC. “Federal Librarian Competencies October 2008.” FLICC. October 2008.
5. FLICC, 13.
6. FLICC, 2.
7. Air University. Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center. United States Air Force. 10 August 2009. http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/lane.htm
8. Air University. Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center. “Make a Comment.”
United States Air Force. 10 August 2009. http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/forms/comment.asp
9. Air University. Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center. “Maxwell-Gunter
Community Libraries.” United States Air Force. 10 August 2009. http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/commun.htm