Re: Blog post: Library Catalogues are no longer an inventory but a place, and a community by Laurel Tarulli


On Tue, 30 Jun 2009 20:13:57 -0400, … wrote:

>Sorry, that last post got sent too quick without my comment on it,
>What I just wanted to just add, was that your first call to arms below, to
>catalogers and librarians doesn’t seem to be talking about bibliographic
>control standards, but “losing control *over users*”. That’s just not the
>role libraries are in, we believe in intellectual freedom first, even as
>catalogers. Controlling users could be called “censorship”…esp in a
>As a library director especially, do you think about ‘controlling your
>users” when they use your library ? maybe you meant to say ‘management of
>information’ or something like that.

As I went to some pains to point out, in the past, the moment our users
entered the door of the library, they were in a highly controlled
environment in many ways. Much of the anguish that librarians are currently
going through is that they no longer have that level of control over their
users. Does this mean that librarians are actually “control freaks” who want
to control each and every action of their users?

Of course not, but this is the way we are often portrayed in the popular
media: as stuck-up old fuddy-duddies who are wedded to their own ways and
can’t change at all. Some users really believe that. Of course, I don’t.

I view a library like a giant, terribly complex machine. If people are going
to use this “machine” correctly, they need to know how it operates. There
are right ways to use it, and wrong ways to use it, and it only makes sense
that we show our users the right ways, which will save them much time, pain,
and frustration. Earlier–essentially before the introduction of keyword
searching–people had to use the library’s catalog, and use it correctly, or
they got nothing. Their only choice was to wander more or less helplessly in
the stacks (which many did). In those libraries with closed stacks there was
no choice for our users at all except to use the catalog.

So this “control” was not done out of a sense of self-aggrandisement; it was
done out of the recognition that a library is a terribly complex place and
you had to be more or less an expert just to keep your head above water.
People have to learn how to drive a car or run a metal lathe or use a
circular saw. If you’ve been away from using these machines for some time,
you may need help again. Traditional librarianship recognized this.

But the new web tools do not and they have entirely other goals. Retrieving
information that is coherent, manageable and reliable is certainly no
easier, and in many ways much more difficult, than it was before the web,
but our public views this as a type of “freedom” and a step away from the
paternalistic, dead hand of the librarian, which some even felt was a type
of “censorship.” At the same time, many traditional librarians (myself
included) see it more as introducing a level of chaos, and the task of
librarianship today is to attempt to get this chaos under control somehow.

This loss of control goes far beyond bibliographic standards and impacts
*each and every part* of the library’s operations. Many librarians have yet
to face up to (what I see as) these realities, and certainly as a
profession, it’s clear that we still don’t know what to do.

James Weinheimer
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome
Rome, Italy