First, let me say this: I thought Andy Woodworth’s post The Concerned Librarian’s Guide to the 2012 ALA Midwinter Exhibit Hall was excellent. So, no, the title of my post is not meant to ridicule his. I was impressed by the amount of work that went into that post. As a blogger, I know how hard it is to come up with something fairly interesting to say on a regular basis let alone researching a topic to the extent that his was researched for the Guide. Kudos to him. I’m sure many librarians will find this information useful whether they are heading to Texas this week or not. I know I did.
I borrowed part of his post’s title because it is very àpropos to this post. There have always been issues on the table, but since I’m relatively new (8 years) to the profession, I can’t gauge the extent to which this period of time differs from (or is the same as) other periods of unrest in the history of libraries. All I know is that every day it seems as if we are confronted with something important that we are expected to be concerned about and that demands that we educate ourselves and jump on a bandwagon to protest, advocate for, or educate others–our users, perhaps–about. I think Andy hit on the big three of the moment:
I understand how each of these issues can potentially affect library services. And I understand their relevancy to what we do as librarians and library staff. What I wonder about, though, is if these concerns are more librarian concerns than library concerns.
Take for example this: Emphasis on Ebooks Stirs Community Outcry in Illinois where residents (taxpayers) are concerned about what they view as a disproportionate amount of the library’s budget being directed to the purchase of ebooks. Is this a case of the public not yet catching up to a trend, or is this a case of a library projecting a trend upon its users before they’re ready? Librarians are concerned about providing ebook access. Are users (or non-users) as concerned as we are?
There are also these recent posts by Jamie LaRue about library as publisher. I am a huge fan of Jamie LaRue and Douglas County Libraries. I think they are pioneers in the library as publisher/owning ebooks arena. However, once again I wonder, are these librarian concerns or concerns of the library or the library’s users? Some librarians, like those in Douglas County Colorado, are interested in hosting and owning the digital work of authors but are users interested in that, too? I don’t know. Is it our responsibility to make users aware that this potential exists? Or is it our responsibility to provide them with what they want now?
We as librarians and librarian activists understand how SOPA/PIPPA and The Research Works Act could negatively impact our users’ access to certain information. But is that what our users want us to be worrying about? Or is it our responsibility to worry about this for them regardless of their awareness because we know what’s best?
And then you have posts like this one, by David Lee King (referencing a companion post, of sorts, by Will Manley) about one library system’s misguided (?) marketing campaign that attempted to redirect their users’ attention to books instead of online entertainment. Is this what we’re supposed to be concerned about? Our image? Whether our users are spending more time online than reading our books?
I don’t have the answers; I prefer to ask the questions. And what I wonder is whether we, as librarians, are asking the right questions. What do our users want and expect from us? Is it the same as what we want and expect from ourselves and our profession and our organizations and institutions? I don’t work on the front lines, so I don’t know. Are your users or non-users coming to you and expressing concern about SOPA and The Research Works Act and ebooks/DRM/vendor & publisher restrictions and how those issues affect library services?
As someone who works at a systems office that offers support to our member libraries, where support needs differ greatly depending upon service area, demographics, funding, etc., I wonder how a librarian–maybe the sole professional at a small, rural library–is supposed to not only be cognizant of all of these issues but relate them to their patrons and act in any meaningful way upon them. I suspect these librarians’ concerns are more about keeping their doors open, having enough staff to provide good customer service, having a collection that is worthy of being checked out, having a facility that meets the needs of its users, and all of the other rather mundane, routine tasks that are necessary to providing a population with library services on a daily basis.
When the issues are so varied and the ramifications so vague at this point, how are librarians supposed to decide what to be concerned about? Are librarian concerns and library concerns one in the same, or are they different beasts altogether? I’m not saying issues like internet and research censorship and unfair treatment by vendors and publishers aren’t important–they are. But how do we balance our concern as library professionals for the greater good with our responsibility to make sure our libraries address our customers’ immediate needs?
Or is this a false dichotomy?