Tuesday, March 13, 2007

some thoughts from Karen Schneider

these are quotes from a piece Karen wrote on the ALA TechSource blog as an open letter to the LOC regarding a meeting they were holding at Google headquarters - no comments from me, just using this space as mental storage backup.

It is both ironic and poignant that librarians are still worrying about “bibliographic control,” after ceding so much of the same to the companies that now rent them journal access per annum at usurious rates, digitize their book collections into DRM obscurity, or sell them ponderous, antiquated “management” 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.

However, I would caution the committee that tinkering around the edges of how we as a profession do our old-world business—buy a book, create a record—is to miss the point. Small upward bumps in traditional book circulation, coaxed by major redesigns of traditional tools—however important these redesigns--are no more comforting than brisk sales at a masking-tape store in a mall going out of business (to invoke an old Saturday Night Live skit).

To paraphrase Andrew Abbott's point in The System of Professions, 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. We are not even close to being the first service of choice for information seekers; we are pretty much down there with asking one's mother. 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.

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