Save the [Insert Noun Here]

David Lankes wrote a blog post at the beginning of August in which he urges librarians to drop the “save the library” mentality and embrace an aspirational public relations model that advocates how libraries help their communities thrive. I’m inclined to agree with David; the ‘library in crisis OMG OMG OMG’ card has been played so many times that it runs the risk of support fatigue. Given that the actual closing of libraries has been disproven, it becomes disingenuous to proclaim that the end is nigh when reality points the other way.

Personally, I think there is trouble arising out of using the term “save”. First, it implies a conservation of the item or place or thing and a maintaining of the status quo. Not an expansion or an increase of support, but a maintaining of current levels. In other words, “we need your support to keep everything as is”. That doesn’t seem like an ideal position to pivot from to ask for additional funding, personnel, materials, or other public support. It’s playing defense without a plan to get out of our own half of the field.

Second, the term “save” has become ubiquitous to any cause around the world. In doing a simple Google search for “save the”, here are things that are looking to be saved in the first few pages:

children, frogs, manatees, internet, chimps, families, ta-tas, whales, tigers, the artic, Narragansett Bay, music, the Upper St. Lawrence River, plastic bags, rain, rainforests, mothers.

That’s a lot of stuff to be saved; it’s not even the exhaustive list. I’m wondering how far I would have to go and how many other causes I would pass before I found my first “save the library” website. It makes me ponder whether people actually hear the noun that at the end of a “save the” phrase; with the constant call to save something, what is yet another species/place/object in peril? I would guess people have learned to tune it out.

To continue down this path, my fear is the future of library advocacy will become a series of dewy eyed librarians looking into the camera while the saddest Sarah McLachlan song ever plays in the background. At 1am, you’ll find yourself  sitting on the couch bawling, between sobs saying the words into the phone, “Dear God YES I want my $30 monthly pledge to save a librarian from a life of literary neglect and absence of information access.” I don’t think is the progress we are looking for in terms of library issues.

To go a step further than David, I also think there is a victimhood mentality that gets a lot of play in the library world that needs to be dropped. We must to buy eBooks at their outrageous terms and prices or else our members will leave us. We must subscribe to these databases at their outrageous prices and conditions or else we are failing our students/faculty/administration. We must provide access in every way, shape, and form or else we are going to lose every successive generation from here to the end of time. We must give our members what they want no matter the circumstances or else the library will burst into flames and be swallowed up by the earth on its descent to Hell.

You get the idea.

It implies that we are hostage to our circumstances and are relegated to simply bemoan our predetermined fate. We couldn’t possibly seek to change the terms of a contract, agreement, or other arrangement if service or access hangs in the balance, no matter how shitty a deal is being dangled in front of us.

How can we empower our communities if we can’t even empower ourselves to walk away from the negotiation table over terms that are not in our best interest nor the people we serve? Why are we surrendering control in situations we really don’t have to?

Control. Exert some. And not just on subject headings, either.

8 thoughts on “Save the [Insert Noun Here]

  1. I’m all in favor of dropping the “save” model, particularly if we also drop the thing about “look how much we do with so little.” This is leading to a belief that libraries don’t need any more than they’re getting because they’re doing so great on starvation diets. I don’t know if my bills will take another year on it.

  2. Victimhood is unbecoming. It is less a matter of libraries being saved, which I contend has an air of resignation and fatalism about it, than libraries promoting their importance through actions.

  3. I used to be heavily involved with the Save NYC Libraries group – then I got advocacy fatigue. After a few years, it was what my dad called “SSDD” (same ****, different day).

    This is part and parcel why I don’t work in a public library, particularly large systems like New York City. I want to spend my time doing my job, not fighting for its mere existence.

  4. “Given that the actual closing of libraries has been disproven,”… It would be really appreciated if you’d cite the source of the “disproof.” (As far as I can tell, Stephen’s Lighthouse and Library Data are the only ones who’ve actually, you know, mentioned that a person did that work, that it didn’t just magically appear, and provided a link.) Cites & Insights 12:4 has the primary article.

  5. Pingback: Keeping the end in mind (also: public libraries and cross-country travel) | Chasing Reference

  6. Pingback: Around the Web: Let’s Talk about Academic Integrity, Mining the astronomical literature and more – Confessions of a Science Librarian

  7. Pingback: Just Do Good Work » Back to RSS

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