Friday, March 9, 2007

Karen Schneider's "Dear Library of Congress"

Karen G. Schneider, the Free Range Librarian, has posted an important statement on the ALA Techsource Blog. Her post "Dear Library of Congress" is complex, hastily written, a bit technical in spots, but worth reading for anyone concerned about where we are or where we're going.

I don't know that I agree with everything she says, but its all worth consideration. Excerpts:

  • ...systems that on close inspection do little more than serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras, bold days when we saw our central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage.
  • We have moved from the librarian as information artisan—a professional creating and using tools to manage information—to the librarian as surrogate vendor, facilitating what is essentially the offshoring of thousands of years of information into private hands.
  • ... we are behaving like the train companies, who thought they were in the train business, not the transportation business, and like them, there are already signs that the “train business” we do is on artificial life support....
  • Libraries across the country are increasingly asked to justify their existence in order to receive continued funding, and some have been unable to do so.
  • ... the concept of library as “place,” and the remarkable public commons that have arisen, should not obscure the increasing difficulty of explaining why this “place” needs to be library-based to begin with.
  • But in the end, after we conclude that the user is not broken, and that the tools we design must reflect this fact, and before the train pulls away forever... can we also agree that the first commitment to ease of access needs to include the right—forever, and always—to read?
I would strongly encourage anyone in our library staff or Board to read and discuss. What business are we in? What does this mean relative to our own planning? To our relationships with our library system and vendors?

One thought is that our catalog & ILS is a durn sight better than something to "serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras." My other comments on the Techsource Blog:

A good and worthwhile piece, which bears re-reading. Couple thoughts, perhaps naive:
  • maybe 'central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage' are not entirely bygone
  • 'the increasing difficulty of explaining why this “place” needs to be library-based' doesn't seem that difficult to me, because of our commitment to access and reading and learning for everyone.

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