I grew up in a family where you were considered to be late unless you arrived early. My husband grew up in a family where you were considered to be early unless you arrived late. Being “on time” is a relative thing–figuratively and literally.
In my opinion, timing is a critical issue for libraries. We suck at it. By this I mean that while we valiantly attempt to jump on every bandwagon as quickly as possible, we are inevitably 10 steps behind from the get-go. By the time our initiatives pass muster through the layers of approval that are required to proceed with anything new, the bandwagon has moved on leaving us to trail behind, trying in vain to catch up so that we can ride at the head of the parade when in reality our only hope is bring up the lackluster rear–a noble caboose on a runaway train.
And the bigger question is this: Should we be jumping on all the bandwagons? The lag in time between something new hitting the mainstream markets–say eBooks–and the point at which libraries have fully embraced or conquered the new thing is, in my opinion, the Achilles heel for libraries. And perhaps the perception that libraries are “behind the times” is widespread only because we attempt to jump on every bandwagon and fail. If we didn’t try to make the leap, then maybe we wouldn’t be found to be lacking in the first place.
Is the “golden age” of libraries behind us, as some with much credibility in the field say? Or is the truth (as I say) that there is no golden age? The “golden age” is simply the era of which you were not a part and wish you had been. Or were a part of and remember with blind nostalgia.
If you read my blog regularly, then you know that I like to make connections. And this thread of thought brings to mind another recent post about Being the Library Again. Instead of timing our jumps onto the proverbial bandwagons in order to make the biggest splash, is our faltering simply due to a lack of vision for what the library of the 21st century should or could be? Are we looking for love in all the wrong places?
And my final connection is this: As one very astute commenter pointed out last week in the comments section of this Annoyed Librarian post, much of the discussion was in response to comments by Jean Costello, not to the original post by the Annoyed Librarian. And yet as Jean herself pointed out, “Many people are interacting with me in this thread and it’s happened in a handful of others too. I’ve been trying to generate dialogue with the library community since early 2009 and have mostly been rebuffed – albeit politely…”
Which brings to mind today’s post by Seth Godin including this:
There are two things that disqualify someone from being listened to:
1. Lack of Standing. If you are not a customer, a stakeholder or someone with significant leverage in spreading the word, we will ignore you. And we should…and
2. No Credibility. An opinion needs to be based on experience and expertise.
Jean has been arguing her point for years, and she has been arguing it with more information, more statistics, and from a more informed standing than many us could ever hope to attain. However, she does not work in the library field. So, is she being largely ignored due to a perceived lack of standing/credibility? If so, well, that’s a damn shame. Because if you read Jean’s comments then you know that she cares deeply–deeply–about the future of libraries and has no vested interest of her own. I myself have struggled to digest all of Jean’s arguments, but she has always responded with openness and a willingness to further her knowledge knowing full well that she doesn’t completely understand the context within which individual libraries operate within their own communities.
So my question is this: Is our timing simply off? Are we jumping on the wrong bandwagons at the wrong time while all the while not listening to those who are sounding the alarm and pleading for a return to a common vision for libraries that is not based on the flavor of the month but instead firmly grounded in something else–something that cannot be found on the bandwagon?
Could it be that the golden age of libraries is yet to come?