From: Tom Fine <tflists@BEV
From: Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:17 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
Libraries have limited funding and limited space. Local libraries MUST serve the local tastes or they will be de-funded.
For me, that is a sad reality.
Rather, they spend their resources picking and choosing interesting titles that get circulated widely. They did indeed get rid of all or most of their book-on-tape on cassettes because patrons weren't checking them out (what car comes with a cassette player anymore?). Cassettes and LP media are not mainstream anymore. A public library should be serving the majority of community members. It doesn't bother me when they get rid of essentially dead media to free up shelf space.
For me, you raise a fundamental question about the function and role of libraries in society. Certainly, there are differences between public libraries, research libraries and archives. However, should a public library devote the bulk of resources to maintaining multiple copies of a Paris Hilton book at the expense of withdrawing copies of literary classics. I often find amazing reference books for sale online which are discarded library copies. I am talking about books which have information not available on line.
So what is the function of the public library? Should it follow the grocery store rationale? I believe that part of the value of a library is to be able to browse the stacks. Otherwise, how would you know a book on a particular subject was available? Google? Maybe so.
I believe that the public library has far less value to society than it used to have. Yet, I still have concerns that a democratic society needs free access to peer reviewed (however faulty that process might be) information.
Within some of our lifetimes, I think the whole notion of physical libraries in buildings will be a thing of the paste except for a few well-funded archives. It's coming to where everything that nearly everyone will want or need as far as information and media will be accessible online. Copyright laws definitely need to be loosened, but the borderless nature of the internet is taking care of this on its own. Rather than paying taxes to support a library, a person will pay a subscription fee to access massive collections of sounds, words, pictures and movies, which they can then tailor completely to their own tastes and wants and curiosities. I'm not saying it's "better" or "worse" than how it works right now, but I am saying that it's inevitable.
To a large extent, I agree with you. I believe that libraries made a mistake by allowing themselves to be evaluated on the grocery store model. For me, their greatest significance is in the unique materials they hold, yet, as I have written in several articles, libraries continue to reduce their budgets for the preservation of their unique holdings. Further, they seem to disregard the value of the expertise to do adequate preservation. I was witness to seeing our University drop their Preservation school.
But yet, I also believe that a market driven internet will ultimately limit accessibility to information that is not considered to have an adequate number of "hits." If you were an advertiser, would you underwrite a site which has but a few "hits" every month. True, anyone can mount a site, but would you be able to find it if it did not generate enough "hits." At some point, I believe the exigencies of economics will limit what information we can "find." It probably always has. Would a book be published if a publisher did not think it would sell? Well we do still have a few University Presses. Of course, it was, at one time, the function of the library to provide even less requested information. But to do that, it would require informed subject specific librarians...an almost extinct species these days.
For me, it is interesting to contemplate the ramifications of the scenario which seems to be developing. Libraries "license" access instead of collecting. Subject expertise has rarely been seen as a significant job requirement...even in research collections. Does anyone know of an archive that has even adequate funding to deal with their unique materials? I think the prognosis when it comes to libraries, is not good.
So, private companies have taken over our access to information. "Bibliographic Control" has given way to the navigation of information...but don't tell OCLC that...they are still in the "Control" business.
For me, the whole situation is quite insane...as irrational as the copyrights.