I make no secret of my love of web technology and services. I'm a full convert to electronic books for leisure reading, having read 17 consecutive books this year on my iPhone's Kindle app. Legal issues aside, I think the Google Books project is a big step forward. I haven't rented (or borrowed) a DVD in well over a year, preferring instead to rent from Amazon's Video on Demand service or stream movies from Netflix. I don't read print newspapers or watch television news, opting instead to get my news online via a selection of RSS feeds from various sources. I am not on a routing list for even one journal, yet I read several regularly online. I use Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, IM and SMS rather than email and phone calls to stay in contact with my friends and colleagues. I love "new media."
Professionally speaking, that means slightly more than diddly squat.
There is no shortage of librarians stating their preferences about online services. God knows I do it plenty. Some proselytize tools like Twitter as gospel. Others are evangelical about the enduring utility of print. But even if, for example, "I believe that print books are an outdated technology" (which I don't), that doesn't mean my library should cease collecting print materials. I am but one person. Furthermore, I'm not even really a patron of my library. I am an employee. As a professional, my job is to give the patrons of my library what they want and need for their purposes. I work at an academic law library, so by and large those patron wants and needs are scholarly or instructional in nature. Yes, many of those patrons would prefer that everything we have be available in electronic format. These patrons are merely one constituency. If we are able to meet that constituency's expectations, there are still other constituencies to consider. Service to one group of patrons should not be provided to the exclusion of all others.
Now, given my preference for digital library service, I may believe that the reasons behind my preference are universal strengths that all patrons would embrace if only they knew about them. Well, then it's my job to inform patrons about those strengths. And to do so in a neutral manner that doesn't attempt to bully anyone into "seeing the light." Some will see things my way. Some will not. But my job as a librarian isn't simply to please those patrons who agree with me and my preferences. If a significant portion (and that doesn't mean it has to be even close to a majority) of my library's patrons prefer something other than what I like, it's my job to give it to them as well as my budget allows.
This is not an anti-progress post. I believe that librarians should explore social media tools and ebooks aggressively to meet the needs of those patrons who prefer them. If a new web technology really is progress for patrons, and we do a good job illustrating that to them, it will stick. But these new services should be added in addition to the ones already in place. The existence of IM or SMS reference service does not necessarily mean there shouldn't be a librarian at a reference desk, too. These are individual considerations for individual libraries based upon the needs of each institution's patrons. The adoption of new technology should make things easier for patrons, not more difficult. If we, as librarians, simply rely on our own personal preferences in making decisions about services and materials that impact our patrons, we cease to be useful to the very people we're here to serve.
Even in the examples I provided at the beginning of this post, my preferences only go so far. My parents do not use Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, IM or SMS. So while I prefer all those things, when it comes to staying in touch with them, I use email and phone calls. And that's just fine. There is no reason the new and the old can't co-exist.