Where's the Library?

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Why Bother?

Posted by Librarian/Information Professional on November 8, 2008

What a negative!! Arrrggghh!! Why do I bother going to library school?? Ever since I first started working in libraries in the 90s, there have been those who have predicted and called for the end of the library. From the so called “wall-less” (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/AboutLibrary/CUNews/cu_101697.html) libraries to libraries are disappearing and are irrelevant. What is the point if the professionals of the discipline do not see value to libraries and buy into the current trends that all information is available online, so who needs the libraries! While there is some truth to this supposition, it is too simplistic!

Articles such as Ross and Sennyey’s The Library is Dead, Long Live the Library! The Practice of Academic Librarianship and the Digital Revolution, are part of this long trend of devaluing librarianship, and the librarians who buy into it. While this article makes some excellent points about the necessity for libraries to change with the new trends in technology, they make me feel like I should just roll over and play dead and forget library school.

Fortunately, I don’t buy into their total package deal. Under all that hype about publishers and the Internet being all that users care about, I think they miss several important points. With the rapid development of information being available online, it rapidly changes and sometimes disappears. Information on the Web is here today and gone almost as quickly.

Service, is one of the major aspects of librarianship. Filtering all that information for people is part of library services. Whether it is done personally, or through a well designed web page is part of that service.

Collections, is another part of librarianship. Collections are being redefined in the digital age, yet what is here today may not be here tomorrow. Using one of their examples of government documents. Ask most government documents librarians about purls (http://purl.oclc.org/) and document availability. Docs are replaced at the whim of the agencies and may appear, move and disappear as pages are re-designed. Ask about what happened in post 9/11 and the Department of Interior(http://www.doi.gov/)

pages (http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/213/1/104/). Like much of information that libraries provide, the most current information is not always what is needed. Sometimes previous documents are necessary for users. The philosophy being presented in this article and others, is that only the most current information is ever needed. That philosophy defies scholarship and research goals. Changing government information at the whim of the agency director flies in the face of “Freedom of Information” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act) and (http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/index.html), critical to open records access to government in the US.

Additionally, collections should not be totally in the hands of commercial entities as this paper seems to suggest. Commercial entities will provide what is profitable, not what is needed. The “long tail” or “just in case” collections are needed for scholarship and research.

Library as Space, is about the building and its uses. While the authors make some valid points that using the space in different manners call into question the existence of keeping the building, again they do not understand the changing nature of users. Those students who use the library for “study hall” also use the services of the building. By my own observation, users will browse the collection searching for ideas and alternative solutions to their information quests. Granted my experience is in an academic library, haunted by undergraduates, for the most part.

So what is the point? The point is that information professionals are important if they take themselves seriously. While Ross and Sennyey make some valid points about the necessity for changes within the field, they miss the point about what librarianship is all about!

Article cited: Ross, Lyman and Pongracz Sennyey. 2008. The library is dead, long live the library! The practice of academic librarianship and the digital revolution. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34 no. 2: 145-152.

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