Re: [ACAT] Time to Get Rid of Libraries

Posting to Autocat

This thread is too interesting to see it veer away from the main point: the developed world is in a very serious economic slump at the moment. Libraries have been under pressure in many ways for an even longer time (the extraordinary pricing of journals, digital materials) while funding has almost invariably gone down. At one time, libraries were considered the place to go to if you wanted information but that is now changing because so much is available through the Web. It is only natural that people ask the question: what is the purpose of a library today? They would be fools if they didn’t ask.

If it is as a community center, there are all different types of community centers. If it is as a place to get forms for the government, well, for instance in Italy, you get those primarily through the post office,  but some government papers you can get through the tobacco shops. (Isn’t that freaky?) There are lots of community centers in Rome, for older people, for students, for artists, for all kinds of people. If you want internet access, most go to an Internet point,  where you pay a euro or so an hour to do whatever you want to do on a computer. Libraries here offer many of those options too but the society is changing.

What I am trying to say is that there are almost limitless options, but the traditional role of the library was always as a place to go for information. That has already changed. When some manager, who is in charge of a budget, has to decide how to distribute an ever-decreasing pool of cash (it seems that the idea of bringing more money into the pool is politically impossible to mention–for now), somebody has to wind up on the short side. Who will it be: the police, the fire department, the pensioners, the museums, the schools, the unemployed, the poor, or the libraries? Who should it be?

I remember I was speaking with the president of a university, and he told me that the faculty believed that he had bags of money hidden all around his office and that if they screamed at him loud enough, he would go over and take out one of those bags of money and give it to them. They just couldn’t understand that everything had been accounted for. Detroit is the perfect example.

Libraries have to come up with new ideas, and unfortunately for the cataloging part of libraries, all we have is this unproven, theoretically dubious and expensive RDA and FRBR. Somebody should care about the consequences to the people on the receiving end of it all.