Print

Print


On Fri, 24 Mar 2006, Thom Pease wrote:

> My unwritten point was that libraries remain temples
> of information not necessarily because of the
> resources they offer, but the services they provide to
> a world in critical need of information navigators
> through the noise of the Internet. Why is the library
> still important? Consider these values of
> librarianship as taken from Shiyali Ramamrita
> Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science:

I agree that information navigation is important, but I don't see
libraries providing that assistance. While some libraries value staff who
are trained in the various disciplines, ours does not. I believe it is the
knowledge of the vernacular of a discipline and personal research
experience that provides true assistance to patrons.

Then one must question why such assistance is needed. Libraries seem to
concentrate on "control" versus navigation. The means to control results
in a relatively high level of expertise required for navigation.
Concentrating on navigation (like Yahoo or Google) will worse the relative
"signal to noise" ratio, but it is easier to use and will often turn up
unexpectedly helpful results.

> 1) Books are for use.
> 2) Every reader his or her book.
> 3) Every book its reader.
> 4) Save the time of the reader.
> 5) The Library is a growing organism.
>
> Substitute recordings or databases or Internet
> resources if you want for book, but these principles
> still hold up as valid goals for information
> providers.

I guess, I don't see the above as being valid. Libraries, or so it seems
to me, are reactive, and not proactive. There are exceptions, but by and
large, in my experience, libraries are slow to embrace technology and if
they are growing, it is only because they are forced to do so or run the
risk of losing all funding and relevance.

> Gorman articulated five new laws for the 21st century.
> One of those was to "respect all forms by which
> knowledge was communicated," and another was to "honor
> the past and create the future."
>
> To these ends those of us who are librarians (and I
> don't claim there is consensus) try to provide the
> most useful resource for a patron's information needs.
> Sometimes that will be a book, sometimes a video,
> sometimes a microfilm, sometimes an Internet database.

Yes, but what is the function when the bulk of the information is
available through a single source, the computer. I see that we are rapidly
approaching that point.

> All research builds on that which has been done in the
> past; and there is no evidence (save Google's testbed
> of five libraries) that it will economically viable to
> provide a world of digitized primary documents in the
> next decade (or two) to allow professional researchers
> to only use the Web for their research.

Indeed, I see the future of libraries in dealing with the past, those
primary documents. There is plenty to keep them busy for many years,
provided the funding agencies see that material (of relatively limited
interest) as being worthwhile for those who are paying the bills.

> Ultimately I believe the two most valuable commodities
> a library can offer any community is its librarians
> and its buildings (some of the last free, public
> spaces where community members can gather without the
> pressure to consume.) I don't think the library is
> going anywhere. While some of the services it offers
> and the internal processes we practice must change,
> our goals remain and the backlog continues.

I believe the library isn't going anywhere but into oblivion. I used to
poll my library school students. I would ask, "do you think libraries will
be of much relevance in 25 years." Not a single student...over 3 years,
said yes.

When I say, into oblivion, I believe the buildings are likely to remain,
but the budgets are not likely to remain as high. Like museums, libraries
will probably end up dumbing down their services...our library system now
offers coffee bars and cafes...our new art museum plans to offer yoga
classes and a bar...with their own rum drink.

I wonder, how many subject specialists at LC have doctorates or have
published in the subjects they oversee. What level of service does a
library really provide without that expertise?

Yes, the backlog continues, but I believe libraries have caused some of
the backlog through inefficient modalities for cataloging and processing.
Also, from my perspective, the backlog also indicates that those who are
in the position to fund do not value that information sufficiently, or
perhaps believe, as I do, that libraries are inefficient in their use of
resources. Also, from my perspective, another major inhibiting factor has
to do with the copyrights. If you are working to preserve unique, primary
source material and do not have the rights to disseminate that information...
well for me, that is just bad business. If indeed everything is to be
placed in the business perspective...libraries seem to have a potential
niche in the marketplace (indepth subject expertise and unique materials)
but don't seem to place much emphasis on those considerations.

Or so it seems to me.

Karl