• April 16, 2014

Marian the Cybrarian

An Academic in American Illustration Careers

Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

For all the concern expressed about the imminent demise of the college library, there may never have been a time when librarians seemed more vital, forward-thinking—even edgy—than they do now.

It's a dated reference, but today's information professionals often remind me more of Ian Malcolm, the "chaos theorist" played by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park (1993), than of the eyeglass-chain-wearing librarians of yore, if they ever existed in significant numbers. (I have seen only one, Mrs. Evelyn, from my elementary school in the early 70s.)

It's not that many of today's librarians routinely dress in sunglasses and black leather (though some do). It's that, more than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what's going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students. No less important, they are often the most informed people when it comes to technological change—its limits as well as its advantages.

Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (HarperCollins, 2010) provides an entertaining, picaresque narrative of her experiences with librarians who, these days, are "wrestling a raucous, multiheaded, madly multiplying beast of exploding information." Ostensibly a gathering of amusing anecdotes about library culture—including the famous performances of precision book-cart drill teams at the convention of the American Library Association—Johnson's book is a stirring defense of the library and librarians, whom she presents as activists defending democracy and the First Amendment, as well as visionaries opening the door to the digital future, while protecting our printed legacy.

As Johnson presents them, librarians may seem aggressively avant-garde, but they are rarely techno-utopians. They understand the chain of events between the butterfly and the hurricane, so to speak, because they have experience with the cultivation of knowledge and with the practical consequences of institutional overreaching. They see the potential of new tools, but they are also the guardians of tradition. From that permanent dialectical struggle, they appear to acquire a mixture of whimsy and wisdom—in addition to a notable taste for eccentric eyewear.

In my experience, librarians almost always pass the beer test: They are among the most likeable people you'll find at any college. They have the intellectual curiosity of academics without the aloofness and attitude often displayed by professors. If you are a stranger on a strange campus, the one person who will always save you is a librarian. They may still shush you in some places, but librarians will also go to the most extraordinary lengths to help you achieve your scholarly goals without asking for any of the credit.

Recently, one of our college's reference librarians drove a student of mine around town on a tour of historic sites to help her with a project that combines archival research with new media. And, earlier today, when I casually mentioned that I was writing this essay, one of our librarians provided me a link to hundreds of relevant resources within minutes. If I send them a student with a problem, not only is it solved, but the student returns with information about resources that I didn't even know existed.

Try depending on a fellow professor to respond to an urgent e-mail message within a week, and you'll begin to understand my appreciation for librarians as colleagues.

As highly professional guides who can lead us through an increasingly tangled bank of information, librarians provide a voice of caution in a period when drastic, irreversible change seems like an easy fix for a concatenation of expensive institutional ailments.

When a major university such as Harvard loses a substantial portion of its endowment, the $165-million budget and 1,200 employees of its 73 libraries begin to seem like low-hanging fruit. One unnamed scientist, quoted in the May-June Harvard Magazine, suggested that the collections of Widener Library—the accumulated holdings of more than three centuries—should be dumped in the Charles River, leading Jonathan Shaw to ask, "What future for libraries?" And, one might ask, "What future for the librarians?"

A balanced answer is provided by Robert Darnton, director of Harvard's University Library and a professor; he is the author or editor of more than 20 volumes on the history of books, particularly in the context of the French Enlightenment, and has been a notable supporter of Harvard's relationship with Google Books. The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (PublicAffairs, 2009) is a collection of essays from the last decade in which Darnton offers an "unashamed apology for the printed word" while assessing the "place of books in the digital environment." He also makes some judicious predictions, some of which are already coming to pass at Harvard and at small colleges like mine.

As someone with experience in print and electronic publishing, Darnton is seeking "common ground" between the Luddite jeremiad and come-to-Jesus techno-millennialism. Just as Corbusier redefined architecture as "machines for living in," Darton suggests that the codex is simply an interface and "the study of books need not be limited to a particular technology." While he sees Google Books as an opportunity to democratize access to information, he also expresses concerns about the potential for monopolistic control over resources originally provided by nonprofit institutions.

One way for such institutions to serve the "Republic of Letters" and to retain a distinct role in the universe of digital information, Darnton observes, is to place the scholarship of faculty members and students online, free for anyone to read. Such an approach can combat the escalating costs of serials that devour more than half of many library-acquisitions budgets, and can expand the potential reach of scholarship in an era in which monographs are becoming too costly to produce. Judging by the online presence of DASH: Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, that approach has made some promising first steps: The resources offered are extensive, but only a fraction of what could be available.

While Darnton presents digital technology as giving us new opportunities for gaining access to information, he is no advocate of abandoning the printed word. He observes that the "number of books in print goes up every year, currently amounting to more than a million new titles." It's an alarming rate of increase, one that many libraries, such as Harvard's, can deal with only through the use of off-site depositories.

In terms of cost, depository storage of physical books is competitive with digital storage, and, equally important, there are more assurances that the book will be there in 250 years in a form that you can read. Unfortunately, much of our born-digital era will ultimately be lost to history because it was never recorded in the more stable medium of paper. Librarians can observe problems in physical libraries (such as fragments of yellowed paper around copiers), but media obsolescence and bit-rot can go on undetected until someone needs something digital that can no longer be recovered.

I can't even open my dissertation documents from 10 years ago; none of my computers includes a floppy drive.

Much is inevitably overlooked in the process of digitization. For example, Darnton wonders who is preserving our "computer manuals or telephone books" (not that I care now, but maybe my great-grandchildren will)? What seems like trash in one era is treasure in another because nearly every copy was thrown out.

Moreover, one digitized copy of a book does not make all the other copies redundant. Books often contain paratextual information, such as annotations, that can become unexpectedly valuable. I sometimes find the smell of an old book can open up the memories of when I first read it, and Darnton notes that 43 percent of French students "consider smell to be one of the most important qualities of printed books." A scratch-and-sniff sticker on your Kindle won't do the trick.

And, of course, for all its promise, Google will remain burdened by the complexities of copyright law for the foreseeable future, meaning that books that are more recent than 1923 are still protected. And what happens if Google goes bankrupt? No business is too big to fail, as we all know now.

For all those reasons, Darnton believes—and I hope he's right—that physical books will remain with us indefinitely. But, as any collector will tell you, "you can't keep everything," so librarians will face the challenge of "advancing on two fronts: the analog and the digital." They will have to do it all, increasingly through collaboration with other librarians: sharing resources, streamlining interlibrary loans, integrating their catalogs, and managing open-access collections of faculty and student publications.

One strategy that appeals to me, in particular, is giving renewed attention to special collections, even in relatively small libraries. "Google will have scanned nearly everything in standard collections," Darnton observes, "but it will not have penetrated deeply into rare-book rooms and archives, where the most important discoveries are to be made." For example, Hope College has one of the most important collections of unique materials on Dutch-American history, and more could be done to showcase those materials online. More effectively utilizing special collections can increasingly become the basis for new collaborations between professors, students, librarians, and technologists.

"Having hoarded their treasures for centuries," writes Darnton, "libraries will at last be able to share them with the rest of the world."

The holdings of our libraries—like the publications of our faculty members and students—can become a major part of the public face of our institution.

Through the many twists and turns of Darnton's book, one major point emerges: "Libraries were never warehouses of books. They have been and always will be centers of learning. Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

And as Marilyn Johnson describes them, libraries are becoming "the new village green." Far from being the declining years of these revered institutions, the present offers new opportunities for collaboration and democratization with the library—and librarians—at the center of that experience.

Thomas H. Benton is the pen name of William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College, in Holland, Mich.

Comments

1. v8573254 - May 21, 2010 at 09:31 am

This reminded me of the day my mother took me up the 10 steps of the small public library, and I peered up at Mrs. Johnson behind the tall desk and asked, "Do you have any Bobbsey Twin books?"
My libraian friends reflect the same qualities you report here.

2. lamack01 - May 21, 2010 at 10:52 am

I work at a small community college with a small library. I know too well the downside of relying on digital works, and the expense of trying to maintain both digital and physical formats. When I arrived in 1997 we were no longer keeping paper copies of the Courier Journal, nor were we receiving it on microfilm. Instead we were relying on the NewsBank version, then available on CD-ROM. In a couple of years we discarded those CD-ROMs and the CD-ROM changer because NewsBank was now available via the web. Wonderful! No longer did we have to insert the new CD-ROMs and map their drives and wait for the new CD-ROM to arrive, etc. A couple of years later, though, on very short notice, we lost the NewsBank access completely, because of the Tasini decision. They had taken down all databases and were not going to restore them until they had removed all free-lance articles. The semester was in full swing. The faculty were angry. We never did get the newspapers back to 1988 - they only go back to 1999 or 2000.

Now, if a database cannot renegotiate an agreement with a particular publication, we lose that publication completely, even for the period during which it was licensed with the database. With microfilm, at least, a library keeps the issues it acquired prior to the end of the subscription period.

3. 11261897 - May 21, 2010 at 11:14 am

A grad-school prof back in the Pleistocene (i.e., the early '60s) told our seminar that he'd never yet found a librarian that had given him unhelpful data.

It's 40+ years later, and I've still to find his observation wrong in any respect. Librarians rule!

4. kar88692 - May 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

I find this article to be ill-informed and naive. Librarians rarely have training in the disciplines they oversee. The future of libraries will be determined by economics and not fluff articles which seem to promote "warm fuzzies" about the profession.

As far as the retention of text in print form is concerned, libraries are, in my experience, amongst those who devalue preservation. Less than 3% of the budgets of the member libraries of the Association of Research Libraries, is devoted to preservation.

Librarians will not have "to do it all." Library use statistics are down.

While there is ample research which points to the notion that digitization is not the answer (see "The Digital Black Hole," by Jonas Palm-You can google it and see the pdf for free.), many libraries, including the one where I work, are pinning their future on digitzation...yet, the commercial world is handling that with more intelligence and far greater technical sophistication. I believe that google, et al have been such a success because libraries have failed.

In my experience (over 30 years as a librarian working in research libraries), I have never encountered a profession so intent at its own self-destruction than librarians.

Karl

5. syd1753 - May 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm

My father, a now deceased but then vibrant public school superintendent urged me to choose library science over engineering as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. His argument was sound-I'd had a love affair with books since I was 7 (Nancy Drew! The Bobbsey Twins! Little Women-I can reread to this day; an inborn curiosity about everything; a love for people). He was rarely wrong (sigh).

At the risk of bordering on a dramatic precipice....my association with librarians echoes the author's experience.

The precise antithesis of Karl's experiences, I have never encountered a profession of people so intent on being the face of helpfulness, utility, and an opening to the world beyond!

6. brancoli - May 21, 2010 at 01:00 pm

Time to retire or find a new job, Karl. The article isn't just about preservation or digitization or Google Books. It's about all of the other kinds of support that academic librarians provide to the academic mission of a college or university. I've worked in an ARL library and a comprehensive university library for nearly thirty years, most recently as the Dean. The faculty member who wrote this article teaches in a liberal arts college library. Much of the most interesting and innovative academic librarianship is happening outside the ARL libraries. All measures of use are up for our library, because we anticipate and are reponsive to our users' needs and we focus on supporting the university's mission. The library is the University Commons.

7. jnn4n - May 21, 2010 at 01:59 pm

The author is right that libraries are more than buildings that store stuff. They rely on professional expertise to build collections and find ways to make those collections and other information accessible to their designated public. But the library is hardly the university commons, if only because the way libraries have gone about this task threatens its ideals.

Habermas recognized that the public sphere required educated, thoughtful citizens. Where do citizens get educated? The classroom. The library as learning commons idea fulfills Habermas's worst fears. It appeals to students not as thinkers but as consumers-- it gives students the candy they want: food, caffeine, and computer screens. Fortunately, in classrooms, students continue to be challenged, so there remains hope for a deliberative public sphere.

8. g8briel - May 21, 2010 at 02:34 pm

@jnn4n "Where do citizens get educated? The classroom." Wow. What a scary thought. If we only got educated in classrooms the world would be a scary place indeed. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of a citizen's learning comes from life experiences. The classroom has a role in that learning process, but it is not some end all perfect learning space. There is a elitist hubris disconnected from reality in claiming that the confines of the classroom are somehow the only magical places where learning occurs.

I don't know Habermas theory, but I think that you are missing the point of what a learning commons is. I'm catching a whiff of a tired tirade against libraries changing from what they used to be in order to meet modern information demands.

People with views of the academic library firmly set in the past like to single out food and caffeine as symptoms of libraries going astray (you might be close to alone on being opposed to computers-- you do realize how much research takes place in digital databases thee days, right?). Ultimately, though, you will have to come up with *real* reasons why these things are bad. Every indication is that they contribute effectively to learning environments on campus (yeah, that's right, I am saying learning takes place outside of the classroom too).

9. mbelvadi - May 21, 2010 at 02:41 pm

The quote 'Darnton notes that 43 percent of French students "consider smell to be one of the most important qualities of printed books." ' says much more about the ignorance of the French students surveyed, or else perhaps their fundamental DISrespect of books as purveyors of knowledge, than it says about the value of printed books. Either that or they found one of those stacks of old books with the hallucinogenic fungi!

10. pannapacker - May 21, 2010 at 02:51 pm

How does one find "stacks of old books with the hallucinogenic fungi"? Now that's an aspect of library culture I have yet to explore!

11. cheyale - May 21, 2010 at 04:33 pm

Yes, and ponder the these stats:

http://www.librarything.com/zeitgeist

The social phenomena of those that create a digital mirror of their own collection and want to plug into the book cosmos through lists, tags, discussions, bookish buddies. Books are social.

12. staffperson666 - May 21, 2010 at 04:33 pm

"Librarians" are as varied as the public they serve, and represent the gamut from looney to tattooed to informed. But a lot of those "librarians" the author so values are really support staff with a lot of experience and insight but no standing in their workplace.
Bear that in mind the next time you enter the library. The staff people you interact with there are helpful, informed, and generally overworked and underpaid, while the librarians are busy doing other things. And in the learning commons, the staff cleans the counters.

13. dmaratto - May 21, 2010 at 04:59 pm

Books are probably the height of technology. They never break, never need to be charged up or plugged in. They cannot be made obsolete, like floppy disks or 8-tracks. They open and close at will, they last longer than their owners (I have books in my library in good condition that are 100, and have seen usable ones from the Middle Ages!) and they are effortless, requiring no training or special knowledge to use. Kindle actually strikes me as more of an unnecessary toy. Google books is cool, but usually I just go find the texts I like from there at the library :)

14. cmmother - May 21, 2010 at 09:01 pm

Our library has a floppy drive that plugs into a USB drive for just the reason you mentioned. If you want to send us your disks we would be happy to email you the files :o) Check at your library to see if they too offer this service. Of course you could purchase your own at any computer store, then you too could access ancient computer data at the drop of a hat. We also digitize picture negatives, slides, and vinyl records, fun stuff!

And yes the librarian will pass you off to one of us library assistants, we know the good stuff, she pushes paper.

15. arrive2__net - May 22, 2010 at 02:47 am

My experience with what was called "the reference librarian" has been similar to what was described in the article. (Although the article seems to be trying to trade a new positive stereotype for the old negative one.) Someone using the library for a serious, research literature search will need the help the reference librarian can provide. Researcher don't know what they don't know. When I have needed help like that, reference librarians provided critical information regarding what kinds of references materials exist that only someone specializing in that could have. Now not all reference librarians will go out of their way to help a mere student or patron, but thank God for those who do! I don't think the need for that kind of expertise is going to go away, since we all "don't know what we don't know". Maybe someday there will be "Cybrarians", as the public and private web gets bigger and more complex the need for in depth expertise is likely to get bigger.
Bernard Schuster
Arrive2.net

16. chingichongs - May 22, 2010 at 03:16 am

<Comment removed by moderator>

17. aldebaran - May 22, 2010 at 03:23 pm

staffperson writes:

"But a lot of those 'librarians' the author so values are really support staff with a lot of experience and insight but no standing in their workplace."

I don't know why you put "librarians" into quotation marks, but in fact bona fide librarians are increasingly treated as exactly that.

With that thought in mind, let's get to the *real* reason why the author of this article is so fond of academic librarians:

"[L]ibrarians will also go to the most extraordinary lengths to help you achieve your scholarly goals without asking for any of the credit".

Translation: "Librarians will do all my research for me, and then step back like docile sheep while I take credit for ALL the work, including theirs, and get tenure! I love librarians!"

As Karl states, librarians are torpedoing their own profession, in large measure because of their excessively self-effacing, self-destructive "service" philosophy. When academic librarians demand more than a few crumbs from the faculty and administrative banquet table, then, and only then, will I believe that they have a chance to remain a viable profession, and not merely a group of glorified research assistants or technical support workers.

18. mmm1919 - May 23, 2010 at 10:47 am

jnn4n- If you want to blame students for being treated like consumers or "customers" as opposed to learners, blame the university administration not the librarians. Or blame the students themselves. Several years ago a student told me they expected a passing grade because they paid for the class. They're the ones who seem to promote this idea that because students pay money the should be allowed anything they want despite objections from faculty and staff who actually do the day to day work in these libraries and departments and should be setting the agenda.

staffperson I agree- librarians need to become more demanding as you mention.

19. nuthouseusa - May 23, 2010 at 02:42 pm

Prof. Pannapacker, thanks for your very kind and flattering words. If I did not already love my chosen profession, I would after reading them. I've been an academic librarian for over 30 years, like several of the commenters here. I'm also a tenured faculty member at my institution. I'm one of the lucky ones who found work that *suits me*, right down to the ground.

As for the negativos here, thanks but no thanks for the attempted buzzkill.

20. pps813 - May 24, 2010 at 04:28 pm

Dr. Pannapacker observes that "librarians will also go to the most extraordinary lengths to help you achieve your scholarly goals without asking for any of the credit." As a newly-minted academic librarian, I believe that our profession is, at heart, one of Scholarship and Service. These (sometimes competing) priorities often invite criticism from both sides - we are stereotyped as "shush-ers" who hoard old books or described as desperate professionals trying to stay hip and sexy with our coffee shops and digitization programs. In reality, I believe most of us are attempting to navigate between our responsibilities to Scholarship (and the constraints and possibilities that implies) along with our commitment to Service (and all that requires). I can't speak for all young librarians, but I believe that most of us see these challenges as opportunities.

21. shirley77 - May 24, 2010 at 05:37 pm

This is a silly article. Librarians are riddled with status angst, ill-educated in academic disciplines, often petty and squabbling, and freqently little more than technicians. Library use is falling rapidly as almost everything is going digital; there is more unmediated acces than ever before. If university administrators really knew what goes on in their research libraries, they would have a field day in cutting their budgets, especially their technical services and reference divisions, many of which are antiquated. Librarians have traditionally starved their archives and special collections, which is really where the action is.

22. vox59 - May 24, 2010 at 07:18 pm

It's flattering that the author has such a positive view of our profession but I can't say my observations square with his. For every forward thinking, innovative librarian I encounter there are 10 fusty stick in the muds frightened by the Internet and other electronic developments. They seem to figure they can get to retirement without taking on the new world of information. Mind you customer attitudes are even more rigid. I act really surprised when I am asked anything by faculty which really tests me professionally. One thing I would agree with is that librarians are generally motivated to be helpful. I just fear that their repertoire of responses tends to be so limited that their "help" tends to reflect their narrow horizons rather than the real world of information.

23. svajoti96 - May 24, 2010 at 08:35 pm

While I cringe at the title and the eagerness with which some of the above commenters embrace crusty stereotypes about the profession, I feel a need to offer a rebuttal to shirley77's hasty, dismissive, generalizing comments. Are they not telling about the coming wave of ignorance about the library that characterizes many new or aspiring members of the professoriate? As an academic librarian myself, and a reference librarian and by association, apparently a worthless slob, I feel that part of my role is to take issue with opinions of this kind. Unlike the petty and squabbling trolls who apparently work in her midst, I like to think I'm a highly valued and visible member of my campus community, much more knowledgeable about systems infrastructure, design, and scholarly publishing than any slovenly, low-class technician, educated quite well, thank you very much. Clearly, she has no idea what work goes on in all divisions of a large, modern academic library. Her "library use" can be defined in so many ways; circulation is but one of those metrics, but how would she know? The unmediated "acces" she so relishes would not exist, if it were not for the supposedly ghostly, ineffective librarians in technical services who manage, make available, and, through their negotiations with vendors, often have a say in the design of the systems which she and her colleagues use. The reference librarians, meanwhile, are busy teaching her own students what she and her colleagues so often fail to explain: how and why the library is organized the way it is, how to conduct and manage their research with modern bibliographic tools and other software, something which she herself would not deign to undertake, or perhaps does not even fully understand herself. Her comment, degrading the work of a majority of librarians who work in these horridly unglamorous, unfashionable reference and technical services departments, rather than this hallowed lair of archival materials and hidden diamonds, betrays her as exactly the type that justifies my own role as a curator, keeper, guide, and yes, reference librarian. She may fantasize about administrators gutting the library budget, likely at the expense of fellow faculty in different schools and disciplines, but in the end, this is one of the reasons I am here: to repel her biting ignorance. I will tell her what we buy and why. When resources are scarce, I will explain to her that the library budget still has to support scholarship and student life in a way that excites administrators, alumni, donors, students, and our community. I'm here to defend the heart of your campus from belligerent cranks, young and old, just like her.


24. paievoli - May 25, 2010 at 09:38 am

I can't believe you had to reach as far as French students like the smell of a book.... what about all the students who are getting anihilated with the cost of textbooks and we are talking about how 43% of French students like the smell????
Amazing. Maybe it is time we kind of moved forward - I can smell the end in sight?
Always fun toread the Chronicle.

25. dwesterf - May 25, 2010 at 11:52 am

I work at a small liberal arts college where, although our reference stats are down, it sure seems like we keep on getting more traffic from students. We certainly get a lot of usage on our databases and electronic journals.

Library naysayers should realize that most, if not all, of the paid electronic resources at any academic institution are being administered through the library -- somebody has to manage them. And we negotiate individually or through consortia to get cheaper prices, which translates to money saved that can be spent on more resources for our patrons.

And that leads me to another valuable thing we do as a library: interlibrary loan, reciprocal and regional lending. This allows us to share books and films with large universities and public libraries. We can get a book within 3-5 business days from one of the participating regional libraries. We are able to move articles quickly through ILL, often within 24 hours.

Faculty are doing research at least in part with resources available through the library: electronic journals, print books, holdings in Special Collections, etc. They make use of our film collection for classes. Our students must complete research papers, capstone projects and/or theses which often require heavy use of library resources. At night the library is a hoppin' place where many students come to study and do homework. College staff also make use of our resources. For instance the Career Center uses a couple of databases we administer, and we have a grants database used by an office that supports faculty grant requests.

My library is a very collegial, congenial place where every person -- librarian, staff or student worker -- strives to provide good service to everybody in the college community. We are always looking for ways to do *more* with what we have. From my vantage point at least, we are an integral and valuable part of our college.

26. bigtwin - May 25, 2010 at 07:08 pm

As someone who has worked in both academia and a library reference dept, I've experienced both sides of the desk.

While some librarians are innovative and making connections with their users--like this article points out--I'd say that this type is in the vast minority. They certainly are not in management positions or places of power. Keep in mind that most senior librarians and administrators got their library degrees before the internet even came along!

27. dpn33 - May 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

Some of the more disdainful comments here remind me of a student I once overheard who said, "I never use the Library, I just go to ProQuest." ProQuest, PsycARTICLES, the Web of Science and hundreds of other popular databases and thousands of journal titles are only there because someone in the Library decided that they should be there for you to reach out and click. Even the link resolvers that pop up in Google Scholar if you are on campus are there because they Library made it happen. It's not magic -- it takes people, often teams of people from subject specialists to programmers. You ARE using the Library whenever you use these online resources. Sure, there's lots free on the web. But there's lots more that's not.

Bigtwin, sorry your experiences at your workplace are so negative. I can honestly say I don't know any scardy-cat, hide- behind-the-card-catalog librarians at my institution or others I have worked with. And old degree does not make us old-fashioned and out of touch. After all, we're information professionals! We are best at finding out what the trends are and using them, even, sometimes, getting too far out ahead of our users who think we may be over-digitized and impersonal. If your library is that far behind the curve, time to move on.

28. bigtwin - May 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Do you really think that if a librarians didnt provide access to online databases, such a service wouldnt be available on a campus? Hardly. Another dept like IT would come in and provide it because the demand is so intense for these services.

Let's face it - despite appearances of innovation, libraries today largely are operating in catch-up mode. If they didn't try to adapt, they would face massive budget cuts, FTE losses, closures, etc. The advent of the internet has undermined the traditional concept of the library to the point that librarians no longer are the "gatekeepers of knowledege" they once were - the Internet and private sector developers and databases now own that position.

29. wilkenslibrary - May 27, 2010 at 12:03 am

Look at my name--it's not my name, it's the name of my campus library, the library that allows me to read the Chronicle whenever I like wherever my laptop and I are hanging out. : ) Thank you to my librarians and to librarians everywhere.

30. jnuttallphd - May 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I enjoyed this article very much. I am legally blind and have dyslexia. I am over joyed that libraries are becoming digital. This means they are open to me using my text-to-speech software. I purchased both "This Book is Overdue" and the "Case for Books" in audio book format. I encourage all libraries and libraians to continue with digitazation. Thanks.

31. coloradodan - May 27, 2010 at 04:27 pm

vox59 said " I just fear that their repertoire of responses tends to be so limited that their "help" tends to reflect their narrow horizons rather than the real world of information."

I heartily agree. In any academic institution there are 2 types of clients: 1) "lifers"": those who are or will stay in the academic tower throughout their careers, and 2) "real lifers": those who will move beyond the university to "the real world." These are two very different information worlds. As a former academic "instructional librarian"

I was often required to teach only those tools provided by the library via licenses, CD, expensive reference sets, etc. These were often not the ONLY or best tools to translate to real-world skills. By nurturing a dependence on these resources by "lifers" we secured job security within the institution. (This was more a function of this organization's bureaucratic inefficiencies than problems with individual librarians, many of whom were eager to do the "right thing." Many well run library organizations move beyond this box.)

However, by disallowing a focus on real world tools (e.g. those tools that individuals are likely to have access to when they become professionals...like "the Internet" we did a sad disservice to "real lifers".)

public health, social services, behavioral health, criminal justice, education, rural health and nursing

These are some of the professions where practitioners are likely to be in resource-starved environments and will need to depend on information that is "good enough" and on the Internet.

As a librarian "in the trenches" providing professional development resources to practitioners, I am finding the real value for to the profession comes in the ability to build relationships with other libraries, agencies, and organizations that can help fill the resource gaps. (How many of you academic librarians know public libraries or special libraries near you to refer your patrons to?)

We then become (as eluded to in the article above) information advocates and marketers of other peoples tools and services. And ultimately, yes, we are one of the few people who know enough to cross disciplines...if we're not too busy focusing on our own silos.

32. hpl1200 - June 11, 2010 at 03:26 pm

Bigtwin, I really do think that if the library went away today it would be a very difficult to find some other dept to step in and do what we do. For starters, they are all already overworked themselves and none of them combines the expertise that we have.

As a person who actively evaluates, selects, negotiates contracts for and does the tech setup, marketing and training involved with getting a new database up and running at my institution, I can honestly say that in none of the universities and colleges I have worked at have I had an IT dept that was capable of handling or even desired to handle these tasks. A database is not just about the technology and when we have access issues with our databases it is generally not our IT people who deal with it because nine times out of ten they will tell me they have no idea what is going on with it! Not that they are not good, just that they have a million other things to take care of and these issues are usually out of their area of expertise and often not even "tech" issues at all but issues of contracts and end-user training. It usually takes a librarian working directly with the database vendor and the end-user to settle the problem.

The commenter above shows a lack of understanding of both IT and the library to just assume that their jobs are interchangeable and does a disservice to both types of professionals. I, like most librarians I know, have a lot of IT knowledge but would never attempt to try to do their job. I know enough to know that I don't know enough and I respect their expertise and contributions. Likewise, most of my colleagues in IT are respectful of ours and work together with us to provide the best learning and research environment for our users.

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