For all the onerous topics that face the library, I believe that the best way to confront them is to teach our communities about them. I don’t believe that the public in general is apathetic to the issues that face libraries from publishers, content providers, and web companies; they just don’t know enough of the situation to consider involvement. I was reminded of Dave Meslin’s great (and short) TED talk on the barriers to involvement in politics. How can people know what is going on in the library or library issues if they don’t know how Overdrive operates, the terms under which databases provide access, or how social media generally funds their operations? Show them behind the curtain!
I teach all the computer classes at my library as well as offering help using the Overdrive system and our subscription databases. I tell people about the pro’s and con’s of sharing information on Facebook and Google and how they use any account information. I inform patrons that certain eBooks are not available because some publishers do not allow for library lending. I caution students and researchers that some of the results in a database search may have to be purchased unless it’s from an open access publication. For all the issues that I want the public to be informed of, I try to teach a class that relates to it or make it part of my reference desk repertoire.
For any who might be aghast at this suggestion or feel that I am acting out on behalf of an agenda rather than providing service, I should add a few things. First, teaching the class or skill comes first. When people leave the class or service desk, they know how to use Facebook, download books from Overdrive, or search the database. I’m not running a propaganda laden re-education camp in the computer lab or at the reference desk. Second, I am perfectly frank about the pros and cons of everything that the library offers. I don’t want them to discover something and have them come back with the accusation, “You never told me about this [glaring privacy invasion/hideous legal term of use/hidden huge cost]!”. I label all my personal opinions as such and offer both sides. Third, I emphasize that it is still up to them to make the decision. If I’m asked, I’ll tell them what I would do and why I would do it, but the decision is always theirs. Furthermore, I am still resolved to help them no matter what they choose.
Finally, I feel that the facts speak for themselves. Four of six major publishers do not allow for library eBook lending. As the newly coined saying goes, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold” when it comes to internet or social media websites that collect personal information. There is academic research behind paywalls as well as open access resources that are equally credible and citable in papers. It’s a disservice to the community and to the profession to gloss over or dismiss some aspects in order to facilitate a happy-shiny-everything-is-rainbows-and-candy-here-in-the-library façade rather than confront the ugly (and sometimes uncomfortable) realities behind the goods and services people want to use. I am not in the turd polishing business. Quite frankly, given all of the spin that permeates our culture these days, a little candor goes a long way.
I believe there is nothing more subversive than an informed patron. So, go on. Teach a class.