Re: [NGC4LIB] The “A” in RDA

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 03/08/2013 16:12, Karen Coyle wrote:


“What other services do you have in mind?”

“The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in Their Communities.” David Lankes

That’s one. Let’s see, in my community, which is not wealthy, there are literacy classes, expert help at tax time, lots of programs for children, an entire teen center with books, computers, etc. It has free wifi, and free linked computers for those who don’t have computers at home. There is a tool-lending library for home repairs.

That said, I would like to see even more services that bring people together for “knowledge creation”. I’m going to try to get the library involved in helping people edit Wikipedia articles (which requires that all facts be sourced, thus you need to find the sources).

That’s a beginning. There should be no end.

All of this is fine, but it seems to turn away from the traditional library goals of a group of experts whose tasks are to provide and maintain a collection of useful materials for their community, and to provide expert help to the members of that community who want to use the collection to its utmost. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with providing literacy classes, tax help, children’s programs and so on; that is when a library functions as a community center. Doing knowledge creation is all right too.

But all of that assumes that a community no longer needs the library itself. I think the reliance on completely secretive algorithms that run full-text searches on the World “Wild” Web, whose purpose is to get people to open their wallets, and which is gamed (not can be gamed, but is gamed) by all kinds of strange characters around the world, who do it for their own, strange reasons–and do it constantly–and where highly personal information about you is held by agencies that are unknown and unmanaged, and they are able to send that personal information to whomever and wherever they please without your knowledge–I would like to think that there could be other choices, and I think it is far too early to give up on that.

What people (and many librarians) need to really understand (not just know but to fully understand) is that the Googles do not care about you and your welfare. In fact, they cannot care. They are corporations, and their only goal is to maximize their own profits. This is not a political screed, but merely detailing the facts. By law, maximizing profits can be their only goal. If the management of a corporation put a community’s goals before the goals of the corporation, they would be fired and very possibly jailed. If Ebeneezer Scrooge had been head of a corporation and not the owner of his own business, he could have done nothing to help Tiny Tim or anybody–except using his own money. And he never could have given poor Bob Cratchit a raise out of the corporate funds. Milton Friedman discussed this (minus Scrooge) in an article from 1970 whose title pretty much sums up the article: “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”: As he put it there, “… in his capacity as a corporate executive, the manager is the agent of the individuals who own the corporation… and his primary responsibility is to them.” That is, not to the Bob Cratchits and not to the Tiny Tims. Such a fact is extremely important to understand and accept.

I am not finding fault with this corporate mentality, but I do think people need to be fully aware of it and of its consequences. Finding reliable information is certainly not any less complicated than it was before the internet, and it is even more unpredictable since you may click on something that is so shocking it may make you fall off of your chair, it could be full of total, outlandish lies or outrageously biased. There is a genuine danger of “filter bubbles” and the like. The corporations do not care about that. They cannot care–that is, if they continue to be profitable.

So, libraries can continue to make their physical spaces available for after-school care, for children and for courses on how to use a computer. But finding reliable information is just as important for a community as it has ever been and should still be at the heart of a library’s mission. Therefore, to say that “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in Their Communities” effectively leaves the mass of people completely to the mercy of the corporate information world. In other words, libraries should just make Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit as happy in their misery as they can be. That would make the Googles happy since it would stop competition. Shouldn’t there be an alternative?

Task number one for librarians should be to create that viable alternative. It would be a noble task that would appeal to many, I believe.