Copyright & The 21st Century

From the Volokh Conspiracy:

“We need stronger copyright or else we won’t get the next Shakespeare” is like arguing “We need the designated hitter, or how will we ever get the next Babe Ruth?” In a copyright-free world — not that I’m advocating such a thing, but hey, you brought it up — we’ll get the next Shakespeare the way we got the last Shakespeare, in a copyright-free world. The first copyright statute, the Statute of Anne, wasn’t passed until 1709, long after Shakespeare was a-moulderin’ in the grave. [That’s what we need a name for — this kind of absurdly misplaced historical argument]

It’s a reply piece to the New York Times article calling for a stronger copyright law entitled “Would the Bard have Survived the Web?” Both are worthy of reading, but the NYT piece puts the onus on piracy and assurance of rewards as a underlying rationale for support of the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). The short version is that this act would allow for the seizure of online domains without adequate notice or due process simply by an application from the Attorney General and an assentation of wrongdoing.

Yes, there is something really wrong with that.

I’m reminded of this video of Neil Gaiman talking about piracy and copyright that has been making the rounds on the web lately. In it, he makes quite the opposite case as to how piracy helped his sales in other markets. It’s short and worth viewing.

So, two opposing viewpoints on copyright. As librarians, we are stuck in the middle; we want information access to be as wide as possible but want to encourage authors, poets, and other creative people to continue to produce. What should we do to straddle this divide as best we can? How can we bring copyright into the 21st century?

Sunday Speculation: Protest Edition

So, there I was driving home from work on Saturday and thinking about what to write for this post when the question streaked across my mind:

If young librarians are in protest, what are our demands?

I blanked for a moment. What are the demands?

Jobs? That’s a tricky demand. Websites like ALA Joblist, LISjobs, and others are full of job listings. There are jobs out there. Whether the job is near where people want to be is another factor. For all the emo consternation that is posted like a teenage poetry contest, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone write, “And I’m willing to move!” Perhaps it is something that people are leaving out, somehow implied in their pleas for any kind of work; perhaps it is not written because some graduates want the job where their families, friends, and familiar surroundings are. For the former, I wish you good luck; for the latter, well, I’m not sure what to say. It’s somewhere between “stick it out and hope for the best” and “if you want to get going on your career now, you may have to make some short term compromises”.

If there was a good demand relating to jobs to pose to the older generation of librarians, it would be in the form of a question: where have all the lost jobs gone? Budget cuts? Attrition? Smaller staffing requirements? Follow-up: what is the job outlook for the field in five years? Because I don’t have the longevity or experience in the field to get a feeling for that and I’m curious as to what the speculation might be. This is not a direct attempt to refute the ‘graying profession’ business or a new yoke to hang on the necks of library leadership. (We’d have to find a neck first, but more on that later.) I’d just like an objective re-evaluation.

Better library graduate programs? I have yet to see any specifics other than “more harder”. There is no shortage of what people dislike about the programs, what classes and topics they think are a waste of time, and there is certainly no lack of contempt for some library programs out there. “I thought it should be more challenging” goes the refrain. How exactly? What was the expectation? We aren’t assembling nuclear reactors here, people. It’s a library.

If there was a good argument for making the program more challenging, I’d say that it should have aspects of a Masters in Public Administration (because it is) and a Masters in Business Administration (because it is that too). As a public librarian, one of my most common questions is how to cut and paste on the computer. I didn’t need an MLS to show someone how to do that. What I could have used is a degree that had distinctive coursework in personnel management, funding and budgeting, public policy, and operations management (like the MPA and MBA programs have, not a unit within a management course). I liked the graduate program at Clarion; I felt it was interesting and challenging in terms of library science theory and history. But in hindsight, rather than taking a Literature of the World course (or whatever it was called), I could have used one of those aforementioned courses. I can get a passing familiarity with literature (world or otherwise) on my own; I could have really used some personnel management courses rather than learning it on the job.

In presenting a demand to the older generations of librarians, I would ask that they look to reformulate the programs to represent the current and emerging needs of librarianship. This goes directly back to the importance of a job outlook; what are the skills that those future jobs will require? And really take a hard look at the current class offerings at ALA accredited schools. (I don’t know much of anything when it comes to ALA accreditation but you may want to revisit it as something that gives a mark of excellence. It’s getting disparaged right now.)

Better leadership? I think it’s a legitimate albeit nebulous demand. The current bevy of leaders don’t stand out in the same way business leaders stand out. I can name a dozen or so business leaders off the top of my head; I’d have to think carefully as I listed an equal amount of people I considered to be leaders within the librarian profession. With the breadth of the field, even the term ‘leader’ would be a bit subjective. Are they are a leader because they have created successful libraries? Successful programs? Successful technological integration or implementation? Successful advocates for literacy and reading? Successful thinkers and library science philosophers? Even in having a number of people who display strengths in important aspects of the field, I can’t think of anyone who transcends that to the whole profession. (I have a couple of people in mind, but I’d rather not make replies about my personal choices.)

It has been touched upon in comments in other places (the kind that I can’t remember exactly where thus thwarting specific linking), but there have been comments about a lack of library leadership being cultivated within the program. And before Pete Bromberg drives over and throws a brick through my window, I’m not forgetting about the ALA Emerging Leaders program. That’s a specific action being taken by the national organization; I know New Jersey has its own variation of the program. Perhaps my question might seem indelicate, but what else is there? Is that the only option? Could there be other ways to mentor and mold the next generation of leaders within the profession? Leadership is a tricky quality; some come by it naturally and other can be trained into it. It’s a hard question, most certainly.

ALA reformation? It is a common theme that gets played out: bloated, slow, impractical, imprecise. Since I’m not an ALA member, I have to go on what I’ve been told by ALA members. But on this point, I have questions for my fellow young librarians. How is it slow? How is it bloated? How is it not meeting your expectations or needs? What should it be doing? What is getting lost in the frustrations and anger at the organization are the details, the specifics as to how they feel it is not working. What is also getting missed is that this is a chance to assert your beliefs and to work to make the changes you want to see happen. ALA is not a country club where you can hold your nose up at joining until they move the tees on the third hole for a better drive. If you want to move the damn tees, you are going to have to join and do it from the inside.

In addressing the older librarians, what should the organization you want to leave for us look like? How is it positioned to take on the challenges of the next five, ten, or twenty years? How will it reflect your influence but be a natural segue for the next generation coming through? What is the appeal, the purpose, the ongoing underlying reason for young librarians like myself to join up? On another note, relating to Council business: how do resolutions on Wikileaks, the two ongoing wars, torture, marriage equality, or the genocide in Sudan help the profession? How do these resolutions create jobs, secure funding, improve library appearance or awareness in society, or otherwise advocate for the library? Simply speaking, how does it put food on the table for both employed and unemployed librarians around the country? I realize that the argument for these resolutions are based in principles, but in this financial and employment climate (and to steal a line from the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign), it’s the economy, stupid.

I’m sure there are things that I’m missing in terms of demands and questions, whether it from my fellow young librarians or for the older generation. I realize that my post is full of questions, but I comfortable with that since I feel that I’m asking the right questions. Rather than giving in to spouting out complaints, I’d like to get to the heart of the matter. I’m looking forward to reading some answers.

Don’t disappoint me.

(I didn’t cite them specifically in the text, but I had been influenced by Patrick Sweeney’s post and Roy Tennant’s reply while I was writing this winding post. Also Jim Rettig’s “Is the Association Ripe for Rebellion?” article. And Jenica Roger’s post about optimism. And Will Manley’s “The War Between the Library Generations Has Started”. I just wanted to acknowledge those influences.)

CD stands for ‘Collection Dinosaur’

From Business Insider:

The chart is entitled “The Death of the Music Industry” but has nothing more to offer to justify that explanation in the original post. Rather than speculate on that and in looking at it from the library perspective, all I can see is a shifting of collection budgets from CDs to digital content. And in going towards digital music content, that brings up a whole new ballgame regarding vendors, what they offer, how they offer it, and the rights and licenses that would be involved with that. There will need to be robust platforms in order to provide support for an increasing scheme of digital music content.

Unfortunately, this graph needs about four more years worth of data to give a better picture on when the CD will be virtually obsolete and how much digital content will take over the market. But those CDs we own are going to be museum ready in the next ten years. I think it emphasizes the importance of having a website that can handle more digital content that will be coming down the pipeline.

Edit: Changed some wording in the last paragraph. Thanks Steve for pointing it out!

Open Thread Thursday: Third Rails

Since last week’s Open Thread had some great discussions, I’m doing it again this week. I liked having a theme, so this week will be the third rails of librarianship. (Sorry, unemployment has already been covered.)

So, what gets left unsaid? What gets pushed aside? What’s the buck that gets passed? What’s the elephant in the room that no one is talking about? What’s the topic that gets everyone up in arms?

Personally, I’d say intellectual freedom is a third rail for librarianship. We tout it as a principle, but when it comes to the practice it gets a bit muddled. For all the times that we seek to preserve different viewpoints within our collections, opposing viewpoints or perspectives that are not popular in professional discourse tend to get marginalized, ignored, or vilified. There is a difference between well meaning people disagreeing and personal indictments of differing viewpoints.

A reminder that anonymous comments are allowed in case you just want to point out the third rail and not grip it yourself.

Big Tent Librarianship over at HackLibSchool

Over at HackLibSchool, Britt Foster has written a post about my Big Tent Librarianship article and calling for unity starting at library school. She writes:

The “big tent” mentality must begin in library school.  We must begin by challenging ourselves to reach out to those in our department, and to students at other library schools.  The web has allowed for the conventional barriers of interaction to fall away, and given us the tools to somewhat define our own education.  Yes, we may all have to take this class or present that paper to graduate, but interacting with fellow library school students will inform and expand our motivations and knowledge,  give us new tools for advocacy, and a broader platform to advocate from, constructively criticize our own education, and offer successful solutions to other students looking for change in their own programs.

I had not read that post until today, but I got a “great minds think alike” moment because I had written something similar in my closing thought as part of the ACRL presentation the other day.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with this final thought. Once upon a time, we were all sitting in a classroom at our respective graduate level library science programs. In that classroom, there were no academic librarians, public librarians, school librarians, or special librarians. We were just people who wanted to be librarians, who sat through the same core classes, and worked together on projects and papers. While we later took classes that reflected the interests of our own career paths, for that brief period of time we were all together. I’d like to urge you to go back to that time. To think about the shared purpose in those professional nascent days. To remember that are no actual barriers between us and that there never were. That we as a profession share those common roots and origins. In getting back to those aspects, we can once again work together to advocate for all kinds and types of libraries. Just as we worked together in that classroom back then.

Check out the rest of her post. This project just puts a giant smile on my face every time it pops up on my Twitter feed or Google Reader. It’s really impressive to me the amount of effort that they have poured into the project for the benefit of the profession as a whole. They’re taking the library program and making it work for them, expanding it well beyond the walls of their own classrooms. Pretty frikkin’ sweet, I’d say. These are people to watch.

If you want to know more about HackLibSchool, check out Micah Vandegrift’s post talking about the project back in October on In the Library With The Lead Pipe. The project has its own blog now. (I’ve created a Google Reader bundle with that blog and the blogs of all the current project participants if you want to grab it in one go.)

ACRL Presentation Transcript

I presented to the ACRL today online to kick off a conversation series. My presentation, “’Big Tent’ Advocacy: Shared Goals, Imagined Boundaries” went well. Or it felt like it went well: it’s hard to tell when the audience is online. I had a good feeling about it, so I was glad to get a chance to talk to the ACRL membership about something that is a dream of mine. For ACRL members, the session was recorded so you can go listen to it anytime. (I have no idea where they post such things.)

I have found that the best way for me to present is to use a script. I write it before entering a rehearse-tweak cycle that goes on till right before the presentation. Today was no exception as I was tweaking the script right until about an hour before the talk. By the time I hit presentation time, I can concentrate on breathing, pacing, and tone.

The only downside was my slide deck. I use Open Office for PowerPoint type things; when I save it in the PowerPoint format, it strips out all of the font changes. So, the look I was going for was completely not there, rendered into Arial and misplaced. I only glanced at it while I was talking, but when you’re on live, there’s not much you can do but make the audio even better.

For those who are curious, I’m posting a complete copy of my script. It doesn’t have some tangents I went out on, but it covers everything that I said. I hope it makes as much sense reading it as it would sound if I was speaking it. This was the first time I was able to talk about “Big Tent Librarianship” to any group of peers. I was a bit nervous about it since it’s pretty personal to me.

So, without further ado, here is the script of my presentation to the ACRL.



This is less of a presentation and more of the start of a conversation.

I’m not here to give you a new set of tools. I’m here to give you a new mindset.

This afternoon, I want to talk to you about the mission I have embarked upon. To unite the entirety of the library profession under one banner and one purpose: to work together to advocate for libraries of all types and sizes.

For me, this mission began on April 15th 2010.

At the time, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had just unveiled his state budget in the middle of March. It took a day or so before the news started spreading about what it meant for libraries. On its face, it was rather bleak: an overall 74% reduction to statewide library funding. It meant the elimination of interlibrary loan and the termination of group database and internet service contracts negotiated by the state library (which included all of the state colleges and universities), to name a few of the significant cuts. For academic libraries in particular, there would be an additional loss of funding that would have resulted in higher library fees for students or simply across the board cuts to materials and services.

On this basis, the New Jersey Library community mobilized. For my part, I started a Facebook group entitled “Save NJ Libraries!” as a means of organizing people, directing some online efforts, and having a common place to share information as it came out. I was working at the grassroots level and kept tabs on what was going on at NJLA, the State Library, the Save My NJ administrators, and other efforts around the state.

As such, I was invited to attend a meeting for Rutgers library faculty and staff as well as the MLS faculty to come up with ideas and to plan actions to fight these cuts. As the largest public university in the state, Rutgers had the most on the line from the funding cuts. It took place in one of the multipurpose classrooms in one of their many libraries, a working lunch for those involved. Sitting in the back of that room (because I was late, parking at Rutgers is a nightmare), I remember listening to a series of speakers talking about the situation and proposing different courses of action. They talked about educating the faculty and students as to what the cuts would mean to them, their academics and their research. They talked about reaching out to the alumni to get them involved in contacting the governor as well as the University president. There were discussions about flyers to give out, about creating signs and what they would say, and about taking part in some of the larger rallies on campus. I was pretty clueless as to what resources and actions that academic libraries could take; everything I was hearing was new and in my head I was drawing parallels to what the public libraries around the state were planning or doing.

As the meeting came to a close, I don’t know who said it, but there was a question that arose: what are the public libraries doing about these cuts?

Now, before I go on, let me tell you a little something about my background. My undergraduate degree is biology. I have always had an interest in the sciences; for me, it is the observation and attempted explanation of the world around us. I’m a big fan of science specials in which average people are unobtrusively recorded acting and interacting in their, for lack of a better term, natural environment. I wouldn’t say this was a Jane-Goodall-and-the-chimps moment, but it did cross my mind.

Rather than speak up, I remained silent and listened as the conversation unfolded.

And to sound like one of those science program announcers, I was fascinated by what I heard. I don’t remember much of what was said per se, but what I do remember is that the talk took on a very casual tone. As it progressed, it evolved into ideas of what public librarians could or should do, what people had heard they were doing, and maybe looking into taking time to find out.

I sat there, listening quietly as the conversation moved back and forth, and came to the realization: they don’t have a clue. They were speaking in tones that were overtly unsure. It was the information equivalent of radio silence. Here we are, an association of information professionals, and no one knows that is going on outside of their own immediate library circles.

I’m not telling this story to make light of my academic peers. Everything they said was in good faith and good intent, and I thank them for taking the time at this meeting to make mention about public libraries. I’m telling it because it would be a common observation in the weeks and months to follow.

I saw it during a state library association committee meeting when the members started talking about the cuts to education funding that were in the same budget. School librarians (who are classified as administration staff and not as teachers, at least some school districts in New Jersey, putting them beyond the protection of the unions) were getting cut all over the state. Entire school districts were laying off or reducing their librarians and their library staff, slashing the library budgets, and otherwise reducing the school library to a space with just books and computers. The conversations I had or were present for with other public librarians would talk about these events but almost in a detached way. “Oh, did you hear about the cuts in so-and-so district? Aren’t they terrible?” These conversations would die out without anyone uttering the question, “Well, what can WE do about it?”

For me, the silence, the empty spaces in these conversations was more alarming than the cuts themselves. Here I am standing in the presence of fellow professional librarians, people who have spent their lives searching, researching, locating, and otherwise connecting people to the information or materials or literature that they are seeking, AND YET we were dumbfounded as to who to talk to, WHAT to do, WHAT actions to take, or even HOW to find out about libraries that were in need of support. That we were faced with a question that goes right to the heart of the survival of libraries within our own state but either could not or would not take the time and effort to find out the answer from people who were in our own profession. These were peers who were looking for help themselves, sometimes to stave off closing their doors FOREVER.

Does that sound RIGHT to you? Does that sound how librarians should act? Does that sound like how a professional organization should function?

When I was approached about this speaking engagement to the ACRL, it was on the heels of a post I had written called “Vertical Advocacy in Libraryland”. It was my first foray into trying to articulate what I was seeing and feeling in those previous months. I define ‘vertical advocacy’ as the act of exclusively advocating for your type of library, sometimes to the detriment of other libraries. It’s a notion that I myself am guilty of as I reflect upon the things that I shared during the advocating and lobbying opportunities that were afforded to me. I think about the stories and ideas that I shared and how they were mostly in regard to or about public libraries. I mean, let’s face it. As a public librarian, it really shouldn’t be a shock that these would be the libraries I would be throwing my support behind to get funding or spending restoration.

But, the more I thought about it, the more those conversations continued to bother me. That eventually the library community in New Jersey would claim a partial victory in only having a 43% cut. And yet school libraries and librarians got slashed, sometimes out of existence. And yet public libraries continue to close in places like Camden, Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know how the academic libraries in New Jersey fared, but based on the funding outlook from the state, I’m going to guess they took their own knocks. Those kinds of cuts don’t even make it outside of the campus newspaper. The whole thing didn’t sit well with me. I kept coming back to the question: “What can be done to resolve this disconnect within the profession?”

The answer to this question came to me in what would become a Library Journal Backtalk article entitled “We Need Big Tent Librarianship”. It’s not so much an article as it is a personal manifesto and the compelling and underlying reason that brings me here today to talk to you about shared advocacy values and goals. The term “big tent librarianship” is the idea that the profession has enough basic elements and underlying commonalities that we share a collective interest in the continued existence of all types of libraries. That, to use ALA Past President Jim Rettig’s term, there is a library ecosystem in which the different libraries depend on one another. That the school libraries lead into the academic libraries, that the public libraries interface with both school and academic, and that special libraries work to fill the niches and uncovered areas of the others.

The overall point is that we (and I say the royal we) are all connected. “Big tent librarianship” is an idea to bring library professionals of all stripes and types, creeds and degrees, places and spaces, and to bring them together to advocate, to take action, and to work towards the continued use and growth of libraries across the United States. That we as a profession are connected by a common thread of teaching information literacy as a life skill, the curation of personal curiosity and education, and the preservation of information access for those who seek it now and in the future. Now is the time to rally together for this future.

I believe that my talk comes at a fortunate moment. Recently, ALA President Roberta Stevens has charged a task force with the following question: "If there was no governing body currently in place, what structure would you envision that reflects ALA’s goal of an engaged and collaborative membership, the effective use of new technologies and the changes in outlook and expectations occurring with the new generation of people working in libraries?" It’s a ‘blue sky’ re-imagining of the organization and how it could or should change to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

I hope that this talk can be the start of that re-imagining. The lesson that I’ve drawn from my story and from the anecdotes that I’ve heard is that there are barriers to communication within and across the field. It is a matter left for each one of us to overcome; it starts with the individual.

In evolving into something new, I urge those who are listening to me today (and those who will listen to this recorded talk later) to work towards building bridges within the ALA organization. I urge you to demand better information sharing practices so that you can be more readily informed about current news in different areas and regions. And I urge you personally to take whatever steps are required to be informed and active in the role of advocating for every library.

For that last point, I’d like to offer a few suggestions as to how to do that because I believe it can lead to the other two changes.

The first is education. Or rather, a bit of self education outside your usual scope. A pair of trade sources that I would recommend would be Library Journal and School Library Journal. I’m not talking about reading these publications cover to cover (or every link on their website), but just give it a scan. See what interests you. Get a feel for what stories or issues that are going on right now.

I’d also recommend attending sessions at state conferences that are outside of your usual fare. Take an empty time slot and find something that catches your eye or relates to your position from a different vantage point. It’s not like you would be compelled to stay the whole time if its really not to your taste, but it will afford you a different perspective or an appreciation of different issues that are facing non-academic librarians.

Beyond that, I’d recommend reading blogs. Blogs tend to be more timely and nimble than state conference presentations or the trade publications as they can be published with a shorter turnaround and offer a personal point of view. I’ve highlighted some of the blogs that I would personally recommend reading and the specialties that they relate to. (After I submitted my powerpoint, I completely forgot about special librarians. I’d like to add Rachel Walden and David Rothman as recommended blogs to read.)[1] You can subscribe by email or RSS feed. I personally use Google Reader and that’s the one I recommend, but there are other ones out there.

The second is communication. One way (and perhaps the simplest yet overlooked) is meeting and talking with other librarians. This can be through more formal settings such as conferences or meetings. It’s certainly less daunting when people are wearing name tags and have a common reason for being there. It’s about getting to know the other people in the organization that are involved in aspects that you may not know much about. It’s a significant step towards building bridges within the professional organization.

From my own experience, I’ve organized informal librarian social meet-ups all around New Jersey. I personally believe that this works better as it foster relationships within the profession at the personal level. That person across the table is no longer Samantha the woman who sits on the Teen Library User subcommittee, but Sam who runs all sorts of creative programs for her teens and works to find new ways to bring them into the library. I’m not sitting next to James the conference coordinator and library director, but James the family guy who likes to go bike racing. You get the point I’m going for. As I said before, it’s about making connections within the professional community.

I will admit that it seems very silly to me to sit here and tell the people listening who are clearly intelligence (and possess good judgment, I might add, in attending this talk) that one of things we need to do is talk with each other. But, as I recounted in my story, there can be some basic communication breakdowns. Something like this is a relatively easy, low risk high reward remedy. And as a people oriented profession, the first people we should be able to talk to is each other.

The third is action. Or, to be more specific, the importance of taking action. For the advocacy campaigns of the future, it is my belief that they will rely on everyone getting off the bench to help out. This will mean laying the groundwork to mobilize the membership of state and national library associations. It means establishing and refining our own internal communication networks.

It’s a bit harder to make recommendations on this point because of people’s personal preferences. I can imagine some would not mind being on the ‘front line’ in terms of picketing, rallying, giving handouts to the public or faculty or student body, and otherwise being out there. Likewise, I can imagine some being more comfortable with the logistics and command end in terms of organizing people, working on the message, making additional contacts, and coordinating efforts. Find out where your comfort level exists and thrive in that role. The importance here is in taking action. The importance here is in showing up.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with this final thought. Once upon a time, we were all sitting in a classroom at our respective graduate level library science programs. In that classroom, there were no academic librarians, public librarians, school librarians, or special librarians. We were just people who wanted to be librarians, who sat through the same core classes, and worked together on projects and papers. While we later took classes that reflected the interests of our own career paths, for that brief period of time we were all together. I’d like to urge you to go back to that time. To think about the shared purpose in those professional nascent days. To remember that are no actual barriers between us and that there never were. That we as a profession share those common roots and origins. In getting back to those aspects, we can once again work together to advocate for all kinds and types of libraries. Just as we worked together in that classroom back then.

Thank you.

I’d like to thank Eric and Valerie for inviting me to speak to the ACRL today. They have been immensely patient with me along the way and I’m thankful for that. I hope this presentation and the others to follow live up to the title of ‘conversation series’. I’d like to hear your thoughts.


[1] The blogs I listed on my slide deck (but didn’t write what I said about them into the script) were:

School Librarians: The Unquiet Librarian, NeverEndingSearch, Blue Skunk Blog, Cathy Jo Nelson’s Professional Thoughts.

Public Librarians:, David Lee King, Librarian By Day, PC Sweeney’s Blog, Librarian in Black.

The Right Stuff

On the drive to work today, I was thinking about the last couple of blog posts and listening to the radio. The overall point that has been pressed is what the current older generation of librarians have done for the field: the expansion of the total number of libraries, the creation of the modern online catalog, modern shared sources and databases, and other advances in information access and sharing systems. Even with all that, I really can’t get past the haphazard funding models. How could there be so much heavy lifting in one area and inconsistency in another?

During that drive, it hit me: libraries are a lot like NASA

Over the years, NASA has built rockets for taking all sort of payloads into space. They’ve created a re-usable space craft that has served in hundreds of missions. They have constructed a pair of space stations (first Skylab, now the International Space Station). The scientific experiments that are carried out during the missions or on the space stations provided key scientific data that cannot be replicated on Earth. They have put men on the moon, probes and rovers onto other planets, and spacecraft that have exited our solar system for parts unknown. The Hubble Space telescope has returned images from the edges of the expanding universe, a glimpse of the primitive moments of the universe after the Big Bang. It has shown us the wonders of the universe.

But when it comes to funding… well, it’s a mixed bag. It even has its own Wikipedia entry to chart the relative flatness or decline of funding since the 1960’s. But for such a respectable institution that brings scientific advances and greater understandings of Earthly problem through experiments in space, how is it that the funding remains relatively flat? Don’t people see the value and merit of what they do?

And so it is with libraries. I’m preaching to the choir on this one, so I will spare the rehashing of library value. But for all the things that NASA and libraries do on behalf of society, for whatever reason it becomes a hard sell. Overall, both have the same likeability factor. People say that they are provide useful items to society. But when it comes to the funding, there is a disconnect. The talk becomes that the cost is too high, the area of effect is haphazard, and that people simply don’t see the need anymore. And for all the advances and technologies that have been built by NASA engineers, for all the information networks and growth that librarians have built over the years, it can far too easily get set aside when the value is not articulated to those who control the budgets. That’s a serious problem.

Despite my sloppy handling on the Sunday Speculation post, I did receive one answer to the underlying question as to what happened to the political and financial relationships between libraries and their communities. Stephen Abrams wrote:

The simplest answer is that those people and the people/politicians they built the relationship with retired or were voted out of office. These relationships need to be continuously cultivated, evolved and sustained, and worked on through the political process and through association work. As can be noted ad nauseum, many next gen librarians (certainly not all) have abandoned library associations (I have seen the demographic and renewal membership numbers) and, according to research surveys, distrust the political process and vote/participate at very low rates on top of GenX being a small generational cohort. So we’re in a Catch 22. How do we engage the next generation of advocates in library issues?

It’s a good question. I don’t recall anything in the graduate coursework about building and maintaining relationships with funding bodies. Should the MLS programs start addressing this issue through coursework? Within my own state, I’ve seen advocacy sessions offered during the state conference and a single day conference. Should this be something that state associations are doing on a year round basis? There are certainly people within the field who have had tremendous success building these relationships. Should they be tapped as mentors, role models, and consultants for libraries looking to improve their standing?

I’d be interested in seeing how this issue was handled historically and what the profession will do about it at the future. What do you think is the best approach? Should this be something in the core classes at MLS programs? Or is it really something you learn on the job with mentors, conferences, and workshops?


On a related note, I am finding the discrepancy between the number of replies from the Sunday Speculation and the Mea Culpa post rather interesting. I would have thought the idea of competencies and metrics for evaluating members of the profession would have gotten a stronger response. With the number of complaints about the younger generation of librarians that went with some of the replies for the Sunday post, I would have surmised that people had a specific idea of what they wanted a librarian to be able to do in terms of job skills and abilities. For all the insults that were hurled in my direction in regards to being a young librarian, there is a notable silence when it comes to actual expectations. In building this new gilded age of libraries, what are the skills, abilities, and knowledges that young librarians should know and/or look to master?