I hope I’m not leaking this memo, but it is pretty old news. From the NC State Libraries.


SUBJECT: Announcement of Departmental Merger

DATE: 1 June 2005

I am pleased to announce that, effective 1 June 2005, the Distance Learning Services Department will join with Research and Information Services (RIS) to create a department whose mission encompasses a full range of services to both on-site and off-site users, including reference and instruction; patent, trademark, and government information; spatial and numeric data services; and assistive technologies support.

The expanded Research and Information Services Department, with a staff of 22 plus graduate assistants, will continue to exploit innovative technologies for teaching, learning, and information services, including general and subject-oriented interactive tutorials, virtual reference and collaborative tools, and powerful, web-based search technologies. A new Learning Commons area will emerge from library renovations in Fall 2006, offering students a well equipped space for individual and group study where consultation and assistance are available for both research and technical questions. One of the key lessons offered by the Libraries’ Distance Learning Services program has been that resources and services that are useful for the student across the state are also useful for the one across campus. Closer integration of distance learning specialists with other subject specialists and instruction librarians, all working toward common goals, will enable a rich cross-fertilization of ideas and the ability to capitalize quickly upon successful initiatives.

This is a really interesting experiment. Really it’s more than an experiment, it’s an actual functioning department in the library. I call it an experiment because I don’t know of another library that has merged all of their user support services in this way. Anyone from State reading this, who wants to comment on what, if any, models from other libraries were considered when deciding to create this new department?

Anyway, it’s an interesting experiment. I think it’s a great idea to combine all of the libraries’ user support services. Should it matter what type of information the user needs? Probably not; why should the user care that the library separates legal, government, GIS, etc. information? Should it matter if the information the user needs is for class for for personal edification? Probably not. Should it matter if the user is in the library or remote? Well, maybe. In a study I’m working on for the State Library of NC, we’re finding that the distinction many users make is between going to the library in person and everything else: phone, email, chat, whatever. Face-to-face vs. mediated, basically, & which medium is irrelevant.

To group all information services together makes sense to me. Joe Janes has made the observation that the word “reference” doesn’t mean much to anyone besides librarians (at least here, and I think also here), & I’m inclined to agree with him on that. An information need is an information need. If we want users to come to the library with their information needs — in person or virtually — then we should make it as simple as possible for them to do that. And it seems to me that a good way to make it simple it to make it “one stop shopping,” so to speak: one Research and Information Services Department that handles all user support. I’ll be really interested to hear how this new department at State is working out over the long term.