The Wonderful Awful World Online


There isn’t a subtle way of putting this: pornography in the public library is an awful quagmire issue. I’m not talking about the illegal variety since that is actually rather easy to resolve. (Step 1: Call police.) It is the rest of it, the legal variety, that is rather loathsome in its ability to shape and skew conversations about internet access at the library.

On the one hand (no pun intended), it is a legally protected speech. As repugnant as it is to some people, it is permissible for an adult to be viewing the non-obscene sexual content. Non-obscene is a key word that sentence since obscenity is something that the government is empowered to curtail or prohibit and obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. How is something determined to be obscene? This is done by the Miller test, a three part criteria established by the Supreme Court to determine whether an expression can be labeled obscene. It reads:

  • Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

While the first two parts are apply at the local level, the third is tested at a national level. The idea is that the third criteria acts as a balance to the first two; in other words, one local community cannot make something obscene for the rest of the country except for the most egregious of content that would reach a national consensus. It should be noted that the Miller test was established in 1973, long before the rise of the internet as a common social ground. However, current Supreme Court rulings have supported the test as it currently appears.

On the other hand, despite falling into the minority of computer use at the library, it can create an awkward social environment at the library. Even under the most permissible of computer use policies, there are going to be other adults who are bothered by this kind of computer use. Whether they are angered at their tax dollars being used that way, upset by the sexual acts being depicted on the screen, or offended that such expression is protected by the First Amendment, it creates an conflicting issue at the library. Although correct in certain ways, the reply akin to “just don’t look” or a recitation of the internet usage policy does not assuage what that offended patron is feeling or experiencing. Granted, an explanation of the First Amendment and the Miller test might not also go over well either, but this can be a chance to find a better solution that allows people to view protected expression while also minimizing exposure to those who are offended by it.

For myself, there are questions that this kind of conversation always brings up in mind when it comes to permissible content. For the people who oppose this kind of content being viewed in public, is that the sum total of the limits? Is it just sexual content?

What about violence? Should violence be considered obscene? Could I watch raw war footage? Videos of IEDs blowing up American soldiers or the execution of Daniel Pearl? Depictions of being committing suicide (either people jumping off the World Trade towers during 9/11, the Golden Gate bridge, or the Bud Dwyer shooting himself during a press conference)? Video captures of domestic violence or organized street fights?

What about hate expressions? Could I watch a Ku Klux Klan rally?  Or Neo Nazi meetings? Could I watch that same rally or meeting with my child sitting on my lap? (And, for the sake of argument, none of these rallies are calling for violence towards minorities, just the superiority of their belief systems.) I do realize that hate speech has a longer history of being protected, but I have simply included it as another form of speech that creates conflict.

For the people who support this kind of content being viewed in public, I have my own questions. What can be done to accommodate the viewer while offering some shielding to outside observers? Can we as librarians make changes in order to limit conflict? When and where are privacy screens or blinders appropriate? (And for those who say that those don’t work, it’s not a silver bullet solution. None of these are.) How can we better explain and work with people on both sides of this equation?

The Greatest Library Funding Idea Ever Written

There’s no subtle way of delving into it, so I’ll just lay it out there: this evening, I went to see the new Morgan Spurlock documentary, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It’s a film about brand sponsorships in movies… and the movie itself is paid for by brand sponsorships. It’s a vastly entertaining movie on the process (from start to finish) of how advertising and entertainment are joined at the hip, the former funding and influencing the latter. And I really, really enjoyed it.

On the drive home, I thought about sponsorships as a means of funding the library. This is not a new idea by any means, so there is a certain amount of moving old bones into new graves on this blog post. But in the last two years, the sources of funding for public and school libraries have failed like nothing else. The budget cuts are well documented and well known (for non-librarians reading this, try this Google search covering the last three years) but the government funding forecast continues to look bleak. There have been victories in terms of raising tax levies and finding other public funding, but in most cases it is not a sustainable funding model for the future.

The ideal of the public institution for the common benefit is no longer good enough to win the budget day anymore; the common anti-public library refrain is that “I don’t want my tax dollars paying for other people’s entertainment/literature/ computer use”. Compared to the relative status of police, fire, ambulance, and even sanitation, the library is perceived as a luxury community expenditure. In taking money from interested corporations, public librarians can tell those anti-library people that their money is no longer being used for that. School librarians have been proven to be effective in raising achievement in schools; if taxpayers can’t or won’t foot the bill, why not pay for it through advertising and marketing money? Schools, once thought off limits, are now using advertising to meet their budgets. (There is a disconnect between wanting the best education for our nation’s children and paying that bill, but I digress.) So, why not libraries?

We have markets that companies want to reach through advertising. Whether it is book readers, movie watchers, internet users, or story time attendees, these are all representatives of desirable demographics. The library is uniquely positioned in the community since there is no other institution or entity (public or private) that does we do. There are aspects to the library that could hold unique appeal to both library vendors and non-library companies on that basis. And, to put it in some additional perspective, it’s a relatively unexplored market.

As much as people might find this idea reprehensible, here’s a incontrovertible fact: a closed library helps exactly zero people. You can explain your adherence to the “the ends don’t justify the means” principle while you stand on the front step of your closed library to the job hunters and students being turned away. I believe that the tough economic times call for consideration of other avenues of funding and revenue, especially from sources that libraries may have shied away from in the past. Where public funding has failed I think corporate funding can fill in some of the gaps to keep the doors open for both the public and students alike.

The fair rebuttal question to ask of this idea is “where does it stop once you introduce advertising to a library setting?” To be honest, I don’t know but I’d like to imagine I would know it when I saw it. Is the “Gale Cengage Computer Center” too far? No, I don’t think so. Is the “Playaway Presents Time for Twos: Story Time Program for Toddlers” too far? No, I don’t think so either. Would taking time at the start of a crafting program to announce and thank sponsor Jo Anne Fabrics while making promotional material be too far? Perhaps to some, but not to me. Considering how the Friends and Trustees of the library fund and support programs (hell, we even have a sign in our library to display when they do), how is that any different than offering a corporate advertisement? There are extreme cases we should avoid (like a 3-6 year old story time where the children sing commercial jingles or recommending books based on sponsorship and not patron desire), but I think it can be handled in a manner which is in line with our core mission while benefiting a corporate sponsor.

I feel there is a certain hypocrisy to the rejection of sponsorships and product placement in the library world. The major state and national conferences that we attend are not exclusively funded by registration fees. They have sponsorships where library vendors pay money to get their name on the front of the program book, on the websites, and on every advertising piece that goes out. It ranges from the free ice cream that is handed out at the New Jersey Library Association conference, the open bar exhibitor reception at Computer in Libraries, and funding some of the major speakers at the American Library Association Annual conference. Some might revolt at the idea of the “Harlequin Romance Section” at their library, but have no issue picking up advance reader copies or other swag from the publisher’s booth. You cannot curse it at one end while seeking to exploit it at another.

For the libraries that are well supported, this kind of funding should not be a consideration. For the libraries that are facing budget gaps, it should be a viable option put on the table. There is only so much materials, so many hours, and so many staff members you can cut before the operation becomes wholly inefficient to its mission. Like the movie poster for Morgan’s movie says, “We’re not selling out. We’re buying in.” And what we get for buying in is staying the business of helping our patron communities. At the end of the day, that is what matters.


Like I said at the top, there is no subtle way of approaching this as a blog topic. In putting links to the filmmaker, the movie, and providing my own personal endorsement, I’ve inserted a variation of product placement in my blog post (sans compensation but staying faithful to the unwritten blogging credo of citing and referencing the subjects being addressed). I’ve just sent this blog entry with a product placement/endorsement to over 1,000 blog subscribers, over 200 Facebook fans, and since I’ll tweet this post several times, over 2,300 Twitter followers. This will be in addition to whatever incoming links I might get from other bloggers (both from this post or from previous links) or if/when my posts get picked up by American Libraries Direct which goes out to the tens of thousands of American Library Association members. Between all those tweets, Facebook shares, and emails, those who actually read the post will see that I went to a movie, liked it, and then wrote about it. (To steal a line from Morgan in the movie, “dozens and dozens” of people will end up actually reading this.)

In looking back, I can see everything that I have, in essence, advertised: from “People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Flavor” Facebook group to the Edublog and Salem Press Awards to a permanent link to my Mover & Shaker profile on Library Journal and even talking about how I advertised myself to boost my Facebook author page. And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head.

So long as we are talking about self marketing and self promotion, if I really wanted to utilize the blog space to pay some bills I could sell the banner spot, buttons on the side of the sidebar of the blog, even put a banner and link at the base of all of my posts. Of course, it is a matter of proving value (or in other words, my brand); while I get thousands of views a month (a small number compared to some of the other librarian bloggers out there), I would say that I’m widely read by all the right librarian people. “Do you want your library products to reach library thought leaders and futurists? Then I’m your guy. Send me an email and let’s talk!”

And Morgan, if you’re reading this: first, thanks for an enjoyable and informative movie. You do excellent work that makes people think. I laughed as I drove home and looked at all the advertising I saw on the way. Second, I’m biased but I would hope that you’d be interested in doing a documentary of libraries (or at least an important information issue like the inadequacy of current copyright or the digital divide). I’d be happy to answer any curiosities you might have even if it’s just for yourself. Third, if you have any thoughts about the idea of advertising libraries, please feel free to leave a comment. It would be most welcome, especially as someone coming from outside the library world.

Thank you.

(By the way, the only potential result I fear from this blog post is being haunted by the ghost of Bill Hicks.)

SunSpec: Inspiration

I have to confess something. I woke up this morning after passing out very early last night and realized that I had not written a Sunday blog post. And while my first thought was to skip it this week (as I have accidentally done in the past), I know that keeping a posting schedule is one of those things I need to do. Otherwise, I just drop out of the habit completely.

Determined to write something, I got out my iPad and decided I was going to write it on that as opposed to my laptop. This would allow me to stay in bed (my laptop is one of those huge 17″ ones) and be able to tap one out while remaining under nice warm blankets. Although typing on the iPad is not as easy as the keyboard and raises concerns about the legendary autocorrect changes, I decided to risk it in the name of comfort.

Then, it hit me. I really don’t know what I want to write about. The blank page and flashing cursor sat in front of me like a crew awaiting orders. As the theme of the Sunday posts are about speculating on something, I could not think of anything I wanted to ponder on. I sat there, staring around the room as if the answer was written on a piece of furniture or a wall. I don’t know how many other bloggers get that feeling, but I’m willing to guess it’s a majority. It is one of those topics you don’t write about… except when you are looking for something to write about.

For myself, inspiration can be a hit or miss thing. Some stories or topics that I come across lend themselves to commentary; I want to share the story and add my own thoughts to it. Other times, the words fight me as I get them from the brain to the page. I know the point I want to make, but the translation from thought to coherent writing becomes a slog. There are some outs; I can just opt to share the story on Twitter and be done with it. Or just write” a brief thought on it and publish it rather unadorned. But usually I try to put something together, an entry of substance even if it feels far too brief.

For those who write as well (either blogging or otherwise), where do you find your inspiration? What helps you in putting thoughts to screen or paper? What are your frustrations?

SundaySpec: Librarian Leadership

I’ve taken to watching TED talks as part of my continuing professional education. These presentation range from five to twenty minutes in length and there is a wide variety of subjects being covered. TED has put out a pretty cool app for the iPad, allowing me to watch a talk or two in bed before turning off the light. The app doesn’t have access to every TED talk but it does allow you to save the talks it does have for offline viewing.

Last night, I watched a variety of amazing talks: Mick Ebeling, Caroline Casey, Morgan Spurlock, and Ralph Langner. But it was the General Stanley McChrystal talk that really got me thinking. In the middle of his talk, the General makes the observation that the old leadership days of getting all of the major decision makers into the same room and being able to look them in the eye is over. The new leadership reality means using email, chat, and phone and video calls to build trust and a consensus of a common purpose. Instantly I thought about the different things that happened out of the HarperCollins limited eBook circulation announcement. There were emails going to lists of people, chatting online with various folks, some phone calls, and only when I got to the Computers in Libraries conference did I finally talk to someone face to face about it. While it is not the same as sending men and women off into combat, I felt that the tools used by the General and the people organizing against HarperCollins are one in the same. It made me reconsider the issue of leadership within the librarian community.

For as much as people complain about the lack of leadership coming from the state and national librarian organizations, the reality is that the leadership vacuum has been filled by a numerous and diverse group of people all across the country, both online and offline. While the state and national associations are important for taking consensus (read “strength in numbers”) action, the steady state of leadership position turnover in these organizations has diffused actual leadership to members of the librarian community.

There’s a saying in poker that if you sit down at a table and you don’t see a sucker, then the sucker is you. I’d like to paraphrase it to my librarian brethren and say that, if you see an issue that you want to change and don’t see anyone taking charge of that, then the leader is you.

A group of students felt like their graduate school education was incomplete so they formed a group blog HackLibrarySchool to address and provide some of the education they felt was missing. JP Pocaro and Justin Hoenke felt that there was a lack of movement in incorporating video games as a viable collection materials and for programming; they founded 8bitlibrary as a library oriented video game and gaming resource. Brett Bonfield and Gabriel Farrell felt so strongly about the HarperCollins eBook limit that they set up the website Boycott HarperCollins and loaded it with information as to the importance of the issue.

These are but a few examples of people within the librarian community seeing a leadership need and filling it. Are there other examples you can think of? Has the librarian leadership really diffused to the community?

SunSpec: Digital Native Diatribe

In listening to one of the keynotes at Computers in Libraries conference last week about the digital natives, I sat in the main ballroom and quietly seethed. My eyes were Gatling cannons of mind bullets, none of which were capable of bringing down the buzzword behemoth that lumbered onwards in its rhetoric. “The digital natives are this”. “The digital natives are that”. I was hoping that the curtain behind the speaker would part and reveal a digital native shackled to a display a la King Kong.

“Look! He almost looks human the way he is using his thumbs to interact with tools!”

“Stop taking pictures! He’ll break his chains and crash into the audience, asking what kind of phone you are using!”

For the record, it’s not the term that drives me crazy; it’s the definition. The idea that just because people are born into the modern era automatically allows them to have a better intuition or understanding of digital technology is just preposterous to me. While I will concede that new generation will have no memory of a time when such technology did not exist, the implication that they are somehow better suited or more attuned to the technology implies that some sort of advanced neurological evolution has occurred within a span of a generation. Like our contemporary and ancient ancestors before us, digital technology is just another tool that requires mastery and one that individuals can choose to accept or reject regardless as to their age.

I believe being a digital native is based on the acceptance of digital interfaces and technology into one’s life (which is another definition listed in the Wikipedia entry but not the one that was used by the keynote speaker). It’s a matter of what it means to have technology in your life and how you handle it. For some, it’s a smartphone, gadgets, and profiles on Facebook or Twitter; for others, it’s maybe a phone line. It doesn’t matter whether you are 5 or 105; if the technology doesn’t interest you, doesn’t fit into your life, or doesn’t mesh with your reality, then you are not going to use it. Even then, there is a normal human learning curve for adoption and use of the technology.

But since I can’t pass it up, for those in favor of the definition of digital natives to be applicable to the generation being born, answer me a few questions:

  • When I was born in 1977, disco music was reaching the height of popularity. As I would not remember a world without disco music, does that make me a “disco native” and my parents “disco immigrants”?
  • For the children born in the United States after 1788, they would have never known what it is what like to be under colonial control. Would they be called “democracy natives” and their parents “democracy immigrants”?
  • When our ancestors mastered fire as a use for heat, light, protection, and cooking, would it be proper for them to refer to their children as “combustion natives”?

Can we get back to treating them like people rather than social exotics? Because this unfounded mystique that has been granted to them is rather irksome and loathsome all at once.

SunSpec: The Lending Culture

For the last couple of days, that Time article on the emergence of the sharing culture has really stuck with me. It settles on a single question: are librarians missing opportunities to create other lending or sharing networks in their respective communities?

As material budgets tend to take a hit during budget downturns, an alternative to attempting to reflect every single community interest in the collection could be to encourage patrons to share their own types of collections. In helping community members establish their own sharing groups, it would take collection development pressure off the library to collect materials that invoke stakeholder controversy and/or become hard to justify in relation to the core mission of education, literacy, and information. Video games comes to mind, as much as it will chagrin my 8bit library friends, as well as gardening tools and baking pans. It turns the question of “how do I expand my library’s collection?” to “how many collections exist already in my community that can be utilized?”

I think in helping our communities create their own lending and sharing groups and cooperatives that it provides a different sort of outreach that benefits the library. Rather than take on all of the responsibilities and duties of a full lending collection, the library acts as a consultant and mentor to community members to form their own viable lending/circulating collections. It takes the sharing and lending values of the library and puts them into the hands of the people that we serve. I believe that by instilling those qualities into these kinds of lending entities that the overall mission of the library is furthered as well as creating advocates for the ethics that librarians seek to further.

If we truly believe that the philosophy of the library goes beyond our walls, then it behooves us to work towards additional lending and sharing models in our respective communities. In doing so, we put our principles and practice above our own limitations and create a greater lending and sharing culture. I believe it will work towards furthering our own viability in the future since it sinks the roots of the library deeper and further into the lives of our service areas.

What do you think?

SunSpec: Giving The Reader Their Due

With the tidal wave of talk about eBooks this past week, there has been a good amount of writing about the reader and how these changes would affect them from the vantage of the library. However, I haven’t seen much actual talk to a reader regarding these changes. It’s been in the background of my thoughts since I believe that neither the publisher nor libraries but readers have the larger controlling stake in this discussion. They are the ones who will dictate the market to the rest of us. Libraries will just follow along as they always have.

But in thinking about eBook piracy, DRM, and format, I think that readers have already started the shift when it comes to those aspects. It reminds me of the quote from John Gilmore:

The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

While this is not a censorship issue, it does share a basic “why can’t I get to my content” aspect. And with the readily available tools that people create to allow them to remove DRM, to convert eBooks into formats they can use on their eReaders, and to share with friends (out of genuine good intent), I think readers are already making themselves known what they think the standard of care and handling should be when it comes to eBooks. While libraries cannot follow them entirely on this path, it indicates to me that the care and interest for books and their availability is a shared concern. So, that leaves me with some questions.

Are we giving readers enough credit in this eBook debate? What is their role in all of this? Will they be able to do what we cannot?

SunSpec: Serious Conversations Are Serious Business

Where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship? Because from what I have heard or read, I have been told where they are NOT happening.

They are not happening on Facebook or Twitter because not every librarian is on Facebook or Twitter. They are not happening at conferences because the state ones are generally once a year (with perhaps a small conference or two between) and the ALA ones are twice a year; the lack of frequency disqualifies them from being venues for serious discourse. They are not happening on the library blogosphere because of smaller readership (a nod to the ‘not everyone is online’ business) and furthermore run the risk of building an echo chamber for online librarians. And the list goes on for trade publications (not everyone reads them), professional organizations (not everyone belongs), and your own library (a microcosm).

So, where is the magical platform, venue, location, or event that grants enough quorum so that any discourse arising from it can be deemed meaningful?

I’m a bit tired of hearing or reading utterances as to why certain types of conversations or discussions are not “serious” ones because of some factual yet irrelevant observation as to the participants present or missing. This marginalization of any kind of dialogue because it’s not in the perfect setting is simply counterproductive and (for lack of a better term) pathetic. I don’t know what to say beyond that I’m exasperated by the mythical barriers that seem to magically appear wherever something serious and/or important is broached as a topic.

So, where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship?

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.)

Mea Culpa

Click if you don't get the reference

I successfully managed to step in a quagmire today with my Sunday Speculation post regarding a hypothetical case for librarian retirement. My post was the equivalent of fishing with dynamite: it was bound to catch a lot more than what I was looking for and managed to get me all wet in the process. I know all too well about ageism and the discrimination that can be accompanied by it; I’ve had a family member be the target of such actions, long before the laws and lawsuits that would come into play to reverse such practices. So, for the people who took offense at that particular aspect of my post, I offer my apologies.

Out of the ashes of that inflamed discussion, I would like to pull out the notion of competency in the profession. As it has been astutely pointed out, whether a person can fulfill the new demands of the profession is not limited by age but by ability. This poses a series of questions: what would be the criteria to measure a librarian as competent? What can be done to bring people up to those measurements? And, however unpleasant as it might be, what would be done about those who fail to measure up? (As to this last question, I do not believe in passing the buck.)

This reminds me of the current political debate going on in my state of New Jersey regarding the evaluation and tenure of teachers. Everyone agrees that good teachers should stay and be rewarded and that bad teachers should be given a chance to improve or be removed from teaching. But how that is accomplished is where the friction begins. But it doesn’t mean that the debate shouldn’t take place; it means that well intentioned people are going to disagree.

In going back to the questions posed, the basic competency criteria that I would propose revolves around good customer service practices, basic technology knowledge, automation program proficiency (in all aspects, including cataloging), and current library issue awareness (both local and national). This is not an exhaustive list, but one to give you an idea of my line of thought. Those who need help should be able to get it either from their place of work or their state library association. Support networks can be formed for this very purpose. As to those who don’t measure up, they should be let go. It’s sad, but there is just so much riding on the line these days that I’m not comfortable with simply letting people slide through.

What is professional competency to you? What are the skills and knowledge that should be emphasized? And how would you approach the question?