Monday, March 10, 2008

Marathon County - the debate continues

I just posted this comment in the online forum of the Wausau Daily Herald, in response to yesterday's editorial "Opinion: Libary made right move in the wrong way":

The Herald is very to correct to state: "In the future, the Library Board should make an extra effort to inform its customers about its challenges in advance of substantial changes in either its services or its staffing."

The is one crux of the matter: in Wisconsin, Library Boards are not primarily accountable to County boards, County Executives, Mayors or City Councils. Library Boards are accountable to citizens, the community as a whole and library users in particular. Boards have a positive duty to share concerns and get feedback from the community, in an open way.

The Herald, however, compounds another error by blandly invoking "the reality that the Internet has become a widely used resource, not only to find information but also to locate publications available for checkout. It's true that fewer of us rely on high-level librarians to conduct our research or steer us to the proper aisle."

Maybe this is true in Wausau, but it's scarcely true everywhere. And to make such an uncritical statement of a complex reality only encourages irresponsible comments like: "The internet has everything the library has." Anyone who would make such a remark only demonstrates remarkable ignorance of the Internet, libraries and intellectual property law. If librarians are looking up fewer quick facts and book call numbers, they are spending more time developing databases, building heavily used collections, coordinating community programs, and doing Internet instruction. Public librarians have never much liked conducting your research for you, but we're happy to help you learn how to do it -- and that's gotten considerably more complex.

In many communities, heavy Internet use has made libraries more important and increased the workload of professional librarians. If Marathon County needs to make tough decisions, they will do what they have to. Just don't justify it by disparaging an entire institution and profession.
Tasha at Sites and Soundbytes provides this link to the discussion on the WISPUBLIB mailing list. And she reminds us: "Letters must be sent, our protests must be heard and we must stand together to say that such attitudes towards our profession cannot be tolerated." I can only add that our voices may not be heard, but it should not be due to our failure to speak up.

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