HarperCollins and Big Tent Librarianship

Earlier today, I got some vague messages via both text and Twitter in regards to a posting by the Annoyed Librarian over on Library Journal. Generally, this is not a good sign since it can mean, well, anything from a blog whose tagline was “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” (On the day when the Movers and Shakers were formally announced, no less. Go figure.)

So, with a bit of apprehension, I went over and read the post.

After I was done, I have to admit that they made some good points. Not that I agree with all of them, but they were well reasoned and presented. It was a fair minded counterpoint argument to the Big Tent Librarianship idea within the frame of HarperCollins debate and the overall library community when it comes to what it means to talk about libraries (e.g.. saying “libraries” in most cases means “public libraries”).

Huh. That usually doesn’t happen.

My main point of contention with their post is over the illusion of separation between different types of librarians. The AL describes a roomful of representative librarians from different areas as only having a degree in common. I disagree. Give me that room of individuals and I’ll ask them the right questions. I’ll ask about budgets, user experience, customer service, the collection, and what trends are influencing their libraries. They may not have common solutions for all of these issues, but I believe that each of those issues will have commonalities that will lead to cross library type conversations. That’s the idea behind Big Tent Librarianship: that these conversations need to happen in order to find the common points between different librarians.

Within the context of HarperCollins, I cannot accept the position that academic libraries (or school or special libraries for that matter) are not going to be affected by a decision being made by one of the six largest publishers. The issue has drawn far too much attention within the publishing and library worlds to be set aside as passing conflict of limited consequences. While the books that the AL’s library are buying today are not from HarperCollins, the practices of one publishing giant can be duplicated by others within the industry. It may not be the same as limited circulation lifespan, but it could be something akin to  re-subscribing for the latest updated edition of a textbook. As licensed content, the “old” edition of the textbook disappears with only the “new” edition available for lease. I cannot imagine that this would not alter or disrupt collection development workflow or the integrity of an academic collection. The outcome of this boycott has ramifications for the future of the publisher/library eBook relationships across the board for libraries.

The most interesting point in their post concerns when people write or talk about libraries they actually mean public libraries and describing this as ‘public library privilege’. I have to say that I agree with that point. The public library tends to take center stage to the near exclusion (and sometimes detriment) of school, academic, and other kinds of libraries. I don’t really have an answer for this phenomena, only some questions/guesses. Is it the result of a ‘tyranny’ of the majority of the membership? Are public librarians the only ones who can get sufficient off-work time to do ALA activities? Is it because public libraries have a higher visibility and longer usage lifespan to individuals than other types of libraries? Are public libraries the linchpin in the overall library structure from which other libraries arise from? When are academic and school librarians going to rise up and make their own noise at this discrepancy?

In a tangent, this may turn into a defense of the term ‘libraryland’. I use the term because I see it as the overarching term that means ‘everyone’. Precisely because when I say ‘library’, I am usually talking about public libraries. Why? Because I’m a public librarian. I’m going to talk about what I know about because there are way smarter people who write about other library types. I try to inject those issues into my social media streams by sharing their posts with my followers and posting blurbs on my blog. For that reason, a term like ‘libraryland’ seems more inclusive and more encompassing to me. Perhaps it is the product of my own thought processes attempting to sort different areas of interest, but it works for me when I’m figuring out at what level an issue or topic ascends to discussion.

I will admit that I won’t pass up this chance to mention a gripe I have concerning the Annoyed Librarian blog. It can be summed up into a sentence: fix your damn RSS feed so that it shows more than a blurb in Google Reader. It’s not the only blog that does that out there, but I don’t have the same issue with other Library Journal blogs (like Roy Tennant’s). Unless the headline is something good, I’ll tend to skip over them. For the Annoyed Librarian blog, I always end up clicking that damn link since it is the library blog equivalent of disaster porn. I can’t help myself but look to find out what written train wreck awaits me when it scrolls up in my Google Reader. I wouldn’t consider this column’s content to rise to the level of car wreck (perhaps minor fender bender) but I know I can’t possibly be the only one who clicks on that link for that reason.