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A more personal view of the profession

Moving to meta-services

Nicolette Warisse Sosulski /

As a business librarian at a public library, I get the full range of questions from a huge variety of people. Some are interesting and challenging. Some are mundane and repetitive. Some are just … really, really odd. But if you asked me what my job at the library is, I wouldn’t leave it at “answering questions,” even though that’s what takes up a lot of my time.

My job is also to help you get your next job, maybe to help you create your next job. It’s to help you promote and enrich your start-up or growth-stage business. And networks and platforms are probably where some of that’s going to happen.

I’m not using this term in the broad, fuzzy sense of “anywhere something happens.” Yes, the Web itself is a technology platform and network for delivering information and apps. And the library’s common rooms can be—should be—community spaces for meetings, learning, discussion. But that’s too easy. It stops short of where we can be as 21st century institutions and it probably won’t do much to help you get your next job, grow your business or connect to your cause.

Networks and platforms, as discussed by Phil Simon and David Weinberger in the cover article, are designed not just to provide a particular set of services, but to allow and encourage others to connect to and build surprising, creative and innovative things.

Libraries, of course, can do that in spades. My library has a terrific set of programs that connect to our local art community. And others related to sustainability efforts. And still others that work with local authors. What differentiates the “Gang of Four” giants’ efforts from programs like these, though, is that we tend to build them as one-at-a-time, “Hey, this is a neat idea!” activities. Someone has a need, we have a resource, there’s a group of interested people … boom! A new program.

That’s OK—many of them are great—but it’s like building a new social networking service every time you make a friend. We need to think much more broadly about what it means to help connect people and programs in today’s information environment.

I, and other librarian friends of mine, have had people come into the library because of recommendations they got on Twitter. Groups that formed on Facebook have come in for a real-life place to meet with those they’ve known only online. That may be one of the most important roles in our near future—the library as a “physical place to engage with virtual connections”—Ray Oldenburg’s “Third Place” with an Internet component. Rather than doing this as one-off programs for specific local groups, though, what would it look like if we provided generalized tools and resources? What if we put our assets out there—like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook do—and let our users figure out what they wanted to do with them? Working with patrons until we are providing not just services, but meta-services.

We can’t stop doing those things our users expect. I have to answer the question about how to fix bullets in Microsoft Word. And we have to teach basic “digital literacy,” both to people who are, on the one hand, scared to death about privacy issues, and to those who are so gung-ho that they neglect even basic online security measures. But if we don’t also start seeing the library as a place where others can design and promote their own answers, we’ll lose out. Even if your next job is not directly building apps for the iPhone or selling crafts on Etsy, chances are greater every day that you will find it or do it with the help of a variety of networks and communities. And if I’m not out there making the library one of them … then I’m not doing my job.

About the Author

  • Nicolette Warisse Sosulski

    Nicolette Warisse Sosulski

    Nicolette Warisse Sosulski is the Business Librarian for the Portage Michigan District Library and was the 2011 recipient of the Gale Cengage Learning Award for Excellence in Business Librarianship.


The Portage District Library is located in the heart of Portage, Michigan, just south of Kalamazoo, about 50 miles east of Lake Michigan.