Re: If libraries had shareholders by Peter Brantley

Posting to Autocat

On Thu, 3 Jun 2010 17:36:26 -0600, john g marr wrote:

>On Thu, 3 Jun 2010, J. McRee Elrod wrote:
>>The US is not so much running out of money and using it unwisely, it seems to me … I don’t think cutting corners in libraries is the answer … a new set of priorities is needed.
> Actually, far more than that is needed– an entirely new basis for priorities. Rather than meeting society’s needs, we have to assist in facilitating the changing of society’s needs…

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is going to happen anytime soon, especially as we enter this ominous Darwinian period of budget cuts. Throughout my life I have noticed something that constantly happens when money is being allocated be it in Washington, in organizations, or even in our private lives: while what is really needed is an honest reconsideration of what is *truly important*, and then reallocate money based on those considerations, in reality, the allocation of money is based on sheer power. In many people’s private lives, they know they should spend more on healthy food but can’t find the strength to resist the power of McDonald’s or cigarettes. In political terms, this same phenomena displays itself when the budget goes to those with the most power, no matter whether they are positive or negative influences in the scheme of things, while those with less power end up with whatever is left over.

How do libraries and especially catalogers fit into this scenario? To paraphrase Mark Twain, who said, “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” I will change this to say “Catalogers have little or no influence on society.” Let’s face it: it’s becoming a jungle and catalogers are not equipped with sharp teeth and claws.

But just because we don’t have much power in that sense doesn’t mean that we can’t survive and thrive, but we must use our wits and find some allies. Instead of simply repeating the mantra that the tools we make are important and useful, those in power simply don’t believe it, so we must demonstrate it very clearly and very obviously.

There are people out there however, who have some appreciation of what we do although they may not understand it very well. Here for example, is a public lecture “Anya Kamenetz: DIY U: The Coming Transformation of Higher Education“. She is discussing open-access education (completely free) and it would be almost completely virtual. While I grant she may be discussing the reality of education in the future, she is too radical even for me(!). Yet, she does express admiration for librarians!! This starts at 22.00 minutes into the talk, where she talks about Open University and says that the role of the librarian will be very interesting, “the person who knows where all the books are; they know how to access information.”

She displays the popular idea of the librarian’s work here. Of course, in reality we don’t just “know”. We need our tools to be able to find and access, and if you take our tools away, we are *almost* as helpless as anyone else. I emphasize “almost” here because in my experience, I can still find things that non-librarians cannot. I have actually been considering this for some time, and have come to some preliminary conclusions why I succeed while others do not.

  1. I know that not everything is in Google;
  2. I know some specific databases on specific topics that are out there;
  3. I don’t give up too quickly;
  4. and this last part is more of a suspicion, but a very strong one: because of my training, I think in a hierarchical arrangement of concepts. Instead of only thinking in terms of synonyms, as most people search Google-type databases, it is natural for me to think in broader terms when I begin to have problems. This is often when I really begin to find things. As a result, I suspect that the traditional hierarchical arrangements of subject headings and subject descriptors could prove to be very powerful even in full-text searching. Still, this suspicion would need some research.

In any case, there are opportunities but I fear we need to find them and make them for ourselves. That may be frightening, but it is also rather liberating when you realize that your future may be more or less in your own hands.