While the term “political” has many dimensions, some of which are definitely outside the scope of Autocat, most of us (though not all, by any means) work in governmental bodies which are established and sustained through the process of policy and funding decisions – the political sphere. Given this, I see direct causation between the political realm (across many countries including the US) and the defunding of library services, to wit -
- Political decisions led to an enormous bubble in valuation of real estate and financial instruments.
- The value of these collapsed in 2008-2009.
- This collapse sharply eroded government revenues. At the same time, demand for many government social services skyrocketed.
- Political decisions were made to shore up the financial system, apparently avoiding a complete collapse, and to shore up some government services in the short run.
- Political decisions were made to cut off the short term shoring up of government services. Political decisions were made to deny any significant new tax revenues to provide for government services.
- Schools, libraries, social and health services, and many other government-provided services are cut, eliminated or eroded.
- Cataloging services get cut and blame is cast in many directions – except toward the political decisions that led to the cuts.
This is all correct and are simple facts (I think). Political decisions, for good or ill, have led to the present situation. Since there is no reason to believe that this situation will change in ways positive for libraries anytime soon, the task then turns to adapting to this new situation. For library-specific purposes, I would only add to Allen’s points above that during the time the above scenario took place, some truly revolutionary changes also occurred in the information world. As a result, the members of the public who have internet access (perhaps through libraries) have at their disposal more information/misinformation than they have ever had before. Therefore, I do not know if most members of the public feel that they do not have enough information (as would have been the case earlier if budgets to libraries had been cut) but instead most feel they are wallowing in a sea of information muck.
This leads to the (I believe) brilliant insight of Clay Shirkey that the problem is not information overload–it is filter failure (as I mentioned in my ALA paper at http://blog.jweinheimer.net/2012/06/reality-check-what-is-it-that-the-public-wants-today.html)
Of course, it is the public–in some way, shape or form–who determines how much funding and resources libraries will get. This goes for private entities as well since very few libraries are funded independently, but as part of another entity. Budgets are being scrutinized intensely and there are no longer any “sacred cows.” Anything can happen today. Consequently for political purposes, libraries absolutely must make a difference in the lives of the public.
I believe that library values and ethics can help provide the public with what it needs. To do so will be disruptive and expensive I am sure, but it is still a complete mystery to me how will RDA, FRBR and even linked data can help. If Clay Shirkey’s “filter failure” is accepted, I think that the future for libraries could become clearer, and more achievable.