Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RE: Whiny and demanding; rude and arrogant; clueless and uninformed

Posting to NGC4LIB

Mitchell, Michael wrote:
<snip>
Jim,
Perhaps if you held Tech Services and Systems people in higher regard you'd be able to provide your students with off-campus access to your academic databases. I'm sure Tech Services and Systems could easily be able to provide that if they wanted. How 20th century is "These databases work only from on campus"? For someone who's so eager to cast stones, you certainly have room to grow in your own library's current offerings. Or does only the future count for the elites? If you can't or won't max out today's systems how are you going to have any clues for the future? You can hardly talk about student information needs and wants if you're artificially hindering their access. I'm reminded of standing in a little used section of one of my first libraries with my library director. I was looking at the few pitiful outdated books on the shelf and suggested we should get some more newer books. Of course she said, "Well nobody every uses this section" and I observed, "No wonder." Time to get some imagination for the present too I'd say.
</snip>
Interesting that you chose these points. You assume that I do not hold Tech Services and Systems people in high regard, apparently because I raise some difficult points. I maintain that I hold Tech Services and Systems in very high regard, and the majority of my personal work experience is precisely there. I am merely making some observations from a rather long time insider viewpoint that may make others uncomfortable: I see that real, fundamental change is inevitable. And that goes for everyone: deep changes for you and for me and for everyone else. Many, if not most, of these changes will be very unwelcome by many of us. That is a fact, and cannot be ignored.

In your example of the outdated books on the shelves and the fact that they are not used, you are absolutely correct, but buying new books is not the solution, although it may have been the only one possible 20 years ago. Today, there are possibilities of getting videos of book talks, open archive materials, full-text in Google Books and many other digital projects, cooperatively built sites, academic blogs, think tank publications, entire courses from MIT or Berkeley, and on and on. Those things are just as important as any book to my patrons, and many of those materials are much more exciting, dynamic, and up to date than a new book. So yes, we need books (still), but that in no way ends the issue and in many ways, is only the beginning. The situation is clear: we can either try to get some level of control over these materials, and that is the beginning of a long discussion, or we can say we can not or will not control these materials, and leave them to the Googles and Yahoos. I think choosing the second option is tantamount to eventual oblivion.

Concerning the off-campus access you mention, that is also very interesting.

If you really need to know, I work in a tiny university with a tiny library. When I worked at Princeton University for many years, and at the United Nations here, it was great to rely on lots of experts in all kinds of areas. But now, I am in a tiny, university library that has a very small collection. What in the world would compel me to do such a thing? Well, for many reasons that I will not go into in public, but also because it has always seemed to me that the growth of the web provides the greatest opportunities and challenges for the *smallest* collections. That is, the existence of web materials for, e.g. Princeton or Harvard is often simply making a new format available of something they already have. For small libraries however, it can literally be the difference between night and day. Incidentally, my library has been battered terribly in the last couple of years by the economic crisis, and I am not alone in this.

People who have worked only in larger libraries may believe that working in a smaller one is easier, but I assure you that this is totally untrue: you have to be able to do everything, or almost. But no matter what, you can't do everything. In my case, I can catalog, I can do reference, I can select, I can run the library, I can manage staff, I can do budgets, I can do some rather simple programming and other computer tasks, etc. but I cannot set up a proxy server. For systems people out there, something like this may be elementary, but for me, it is something I cannot do. This is beyond me and I need other areas of the organization to help me, but those areas are also under tremendous pressure. So, just as other places have backlogs, I have my own problems.

In spite of this, because of the limited technical knowledge I do have, I have managed to build upon an open source catalog (Koha), to create something that actually, the computer experts at Princeton had proclaimed "impossible to create for 100 years" when I described it to them: my Extend Search, which, however imperfect, still adds hundreds of thousands or even millions of worthwhile materials available as easily as I have been able to figure out. In fact, we even got our Middle States Accreditation in March of this year, which demands a *lot* of work, I assure you. So, at least at one very important level, my Extend Search has proven itself.

But in any case: yes, I am trying to get the relevant people to set up a proxy server. Yet, this is the reality of working in a small organization.

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