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Why should I have to wait for a damn robot to get me my book?
May 16, 2011 8:30 AM   Subscribe

"Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario." Though not everything a library collects is a scannable book or document.

Bonus: How Libraries Add Value to Communities (slideshare). "Why should I have to wait for a damn robot to get me my book?" is from the comments of the Wired piece about the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.
posted by cashman (62 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm in the process of RTFA, but we're not all robots out at the off-site storage places. (We also do electronic document delivery to patrons within 2 hours of their requests, when we're open.)
posted by sperose at 8:35 AM on May 16, 2011


My friend manages a university ILL department and says it would be cheaper to buy the ordered books and give them to the requestor than to run the ILL process.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 AM on May 16, 2011


it would be cheaper to buy the ordered books and give them to the requestor than to run the ILL process.

Anyone know whether that's even close to right? What's involved in an interlibrary loan?
posted by pracowity at 8:52 AM on May 16, 2011


I don't know whether it's close to right or not, but I strongly suspect that it would suddenly become very, very wrong as soon as people found out that libraries were giving away whatever book you want, for you to own, for free.
posted by Flunkie at 8:56 AM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


The article has a couple of glaring bits it has missed.

First, there is the assumption that Everything Is On The Internet Now. Everything is not on the Internet. "Everything" is a very, very big word. If I were going to redefine the language, I would make that word about a hundred letters long, just to dissuade people from using it in a casual manner and to fully understand the massive weight of such a word. Netflix is the argument? Uh, a friend and I sat down the other day to watch the next episode of Monk, only to find that it was only available on DVD. And it's Monk, not some obscure Basque film. So, we need that warehouse. Not necessarily for Monk but for all sorts of fascinating books you just will not find as a .torrent. And the documents. And the theses. And the rare VHS. And some old laserdiscs.

The second and more obvious part of the problem overlooked is that people do not want to interact with librarians if they can help it. This isn't a slight against librarians — go look at the automated checkout in the supermarket — just a recognition that people want self-service, even if it is not in their own best interests. I know some very smart librarians who put together subject guides of fascinating depth and breadth. These subject guides go unloved because someone just wants to sit down at Google and type something, not interact with a person, even if that person can guide the seeker with laser-like precision to the perfect material. If getting patrons to recognize the amazing resources that are available to them isn't the largest problem in the library world, it is at least in the equivalent of Hilbert's Problems.

Librarian as information ninja might be true for the good librarians of the world, but few want those ninjas or to pay for them and it is part of the phenomenon that says, "Yeah, my nephew put up something on Geocities, I don't think I need to pay for that" and "You charge how much to be a wedding photographer?" The existence of experts means that *gasp* there is someone out there who can do it better than me. And I would have to acknowledge that and interact with them!

I just don't think this shift is tenable in the current climate.
posted by adipocere at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


There's already been at least one good librarian response to Seth Godin's article (the third link, from which the quoted text in the OP comes).
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


it would be cheaper to buy the ordered books and give them to the requestor than to run the ILL process.

Whoah...no. Not for my library, anyway. It used to be estimated that ILL transactions cost as much as $50 per item, but I've seen a lot of improvements in the system in my 16 years as a librarian, and that doesn't seem right to me anymore.

At my small state agency library, I do a lot of ILL, and I would estimate costs at:

--Delivery: $1-2 per item (more in the case of mail, but most WI libraries take part in the delivery system; I maybe mail ten items a year)
--Processing time on my end: $3 per item tops, and that's if I'm having trouble identifying the item due to insufficient/wrong information from the patron

Things I can't quantify off the top of my head:
--Tax dollars that go into developing, maintaining, troubleshooting our statewide online system, including the staff that maintain the system, do training, and set policies
--All the local libraries that purchase/maintain/organize the items we borrow, largely using tax dollars

The acquisitions/cataloging/circulation work that goes into ensuring an item is available when requested would need to be done anyway, to make an item available for walk-in patrons at the holding library.

There are other aspects of ILL that make it hugely useful and worth whatever money I spend on it. For my library, being able to borrow items is priceless in terms of service to my customers. I can't afford to buy much in the way of new items, and wouldn't have a place to put them if I did. In fact, I would happily pay MORE than I do for delivery and access...but thank goodness I don't have to!

(Disclaimer: Wisconsin has a fabulous interlibrary loan system. Your state/country may not. The less centralized the system is, the more it tends to cost.)
posted by gillyflower at 9:09 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you've seen and what you're likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

I think that the articles miss a very key point here. It's not just about technology. There's been an ongoing attack on public space, and public resources.

I see a stronger relationship between water fountains being replaced with Nestle bottled water than I do between Netflix and libraries. If we want to save libraries, we need to stop devaluing and selling off all of our public resources, and to put new value on them. THEN they'll have the room to grow and change with the new pressures.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:11 AM on May 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


The premise strikes me as wrong given that libraries no longer warehouse the databases they subscribe to. Librarians want for their patrons to have access to primary and secondary materials. Pay-per-reader models and restrictive licensing schemes end up burdening the patron one way or another. Those costs quickly stack up at $2.75 an article (Elsevier average price cited in a 2007 article) or $8.00 an eBook (in 2011 dollars). That's why librarians argue with publishers on eBook distribution schemes.

Even if eBooks were priced at $1.60 (they're not), that still places a healthy book habit out of the reach of many people, a problem that public libraries were intended to alleviate.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:13 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


That Seth Godin post is so willfully misinformed that I don't even know where to begin with it. The dude acts like he knows what libraries are and who librarians are, but it's clear from the way he writes about them that he probably hasn't set foot in an actual physical library for 20 years if ever. The crappy part is that some people will read his post and take it as gospel. As Bobbi Newman puts it so well (in the link that Infinite Jest posted), "But honestly I wish he’d just stop writing about libraries. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great writer, I think I own all of his books, but I think he should stick with what he knows, and clearly that’s not libraries."

I don't want Godin to stop writing about libraries. I don't want anyone to stop writing about libraries. But I wish he'd get a little more information before he spouts off. You know, maybe by consulting with an actual librarian.
posted by blucevalo at 9:14 AM on May 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Actually, I retract that. He's got some good ideas and metaphors. He expresses them very well. I just wish he wouldn't equate Wikipedia with the be-all and end-all of knowledge, and I do think he could stand to talk to some real-life librarians.
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 AM on May 16, 2011


Okay, let's assume that everything is on the internet and that all books have been digitized and are available in the appropriate ebook form.

There are still going to be books that I don't want or can't afford to buy. Some ebooks, even though they are ebooks, are over the $50 mark. I'm not able to, nor do I want to spend that kind of money on a book that I just need a chapter out of for my latest research.

Even if we aren't talking about books needed for research, there are still books that are cheap and easy to get in ebook format that I don't want to really pay for. They are the one offs, the brain candy reads that I just want to see if the author is any good or if I like this topic or what have you.

The library is the perfect place to house these types of resources and allow me to borrow them and try them. In fact, I think that one of the biggest problems with libraries right now is that too many haven't gotten the ebook on a reader memo and are still paying for ebooks that are in proprietary format that can only be read on a computer (NetLibrary I'm looking at you.)

Gimme kindle books that can be lent, gimme academic works that I can "borrow" for a time, and give me a scanner in the building so I can copy those bits of works that are digital for use at home.
posted by teleri025 at 9:18 AM on May 16, 2011


They are defending library as warehouse

Well, if libraries don't warehouse books, who will? Maybe we need a new type of institution, the book warehouse. The library than becomes all those other things. Either that or libraries need to include book warehousing in its list of things to do.
posted by stbalbach at 9:18 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The second and more obvious part of the problem overlooked is that people do not want to interact with librarians if they can help it.

I think you made a great point about subject guides - people don't use them. I think you're half-right about people not wanting to interact with librarians. In general, they don't. But people do want to be able to ask another person for help. Whether it's their friends, their Facebook or Twitter Friends, Yahoo Answers, AskMe - people do like asking questions much more than they like to RTFM/RTFA/RTFSubject Guide.

The problem from the librarian point of view is that people won't ask us, even though we could help. This has been recognised in the library literature for a long time ("library anxiety") and it's something that we're trying to overcome (see for example roving reference; trying to get into users' social spaces, like Facebook; chat-based reference). Anything to make it easier for users to approach us. That's easier done for someone like me, seeing as I've worked in corporate or government libraries. My users know that they can come to me, because they get compulsory induction sessions which tell them so. For public library users, not so much. (Shorter version: Godin's thesis really doesn't apply to me; his focus is a very narrow one that mainly seems to apply to public libraries - and US ones at that).
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:19 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I see a stronger relationship between water fountains being replaced with Nestle bottled water than I do between Netflix and libraries. If we want to save libraries, we need to stop devaluing and selling off all of our public resources, and to put new value on them. THEN they'll have the room to grow and change with the new pressures.

This. This, a thousand times.

Either we believe in libraries as a social good and necessity or we don't. As soon as the conversation shifts to how and how much, the war is lost. When the media lawyers discuss intellectual property issues, there is no nuance. Their argument is "IP protection is a sacrosanct American value. End of discussion. We don't give a good god-damn what it costs!"

Bedrock values have to be treated like bedrock values, or society tomorrow will be very different from society today. Our choice.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:20 AM on May 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


it would be cheaper to buy the ordered books and give them to the requestor than to run the ILL process.

I suspect that that is the cost of the book versus the presumed overhead of the ILL process. However book acquisition and cataloging would also have an overhead, which will have to be added to the price on Amazon.
posted by carter at 9:20 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The last major study of the cost of inter-library loans is this study done in 1997 where they estimated the costs at about $20 for the borrower and $10 for the lender. For many kinds of content, a new copy would be cheaper. But rather than a new book, some libraries are considering Espresso Book Machines as a way to simply print a copy for the patron. The price for books printed on site will vary, depending on payment to the copyright holder, but the savings to the library on ordering a new copy shipped from the publisher would be in the vicinity of about half of the cost of a new book.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:23 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gimme kindle books that can be lent, gimme academic works that I can "borrow" for a time, and give me a scanner in the building so I can copy those bits of works that are digital for use at home.

My understanding is that it's not that libraries don't want to give you these things. It's that publishers don't want to allow libraries to give you these things.

BTW, academic libraries often provide access to copiers that will scan and e-mail "bits of works"...assuming they can afford to provide such a service. There isn't any copyright/licensing reason why they wouldn't. So, your last "gimme" is something you may already have, or if you don't, you should be asking your local library for it. They can't know what you want if you don't tell them.
posted by gillyflower at 9:24 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Godin certainly doesn't get off to a good start. Libraries and librarians existed well before the advent of the printing press. I'm glad that he's realized that librarians aren't merely guardians for warehouses full of dead trees, but I've been "a passionate raconteur of information" (which, I'll admit, is a nice turn of phrase) for something like fifteen years now.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:29 AM on May 16, 2011


As a writer, a published author, a reader who can credit books with saving her life at several junctures, and a hardcore lover of books in every form, I'm seething over here.

Would it be nice if libraries had evolved to their perfect ideal? Sure. But denigrating what is and basically pigeonholing librarians with dismissive language is not going to solve the problem and really does a disservice to those hardworking professionals.

The only thing sadder than Godin's myopic view of librarians is that his huge clout means others will adopt this language too and use it to justify the further erosion of libraries as a cultural institution. This"justify your existence, librarians!" rhetoric is disgraceful and reflects a disturbing and dang scary cultural trend.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


As the Peterborough librarian says, “A lot of people don’t realize their kids’ library is very different from when they went to school. Two-thirds of my job now is dealing with technology.” People like Seth Godin who think that librarians are "defending the library as warehouse instead of fighting for the future" are on another planet. Librarians are fighting for information and for the concept of having a place or a person to come to for help with finding information, for help with being that "interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user," for help with the realization that the WWW does not contain all of the information that anyone could possibly ever need in an easily navigable setting. How Godin can get some things so right and some things so miserably wrong is beyond me, but he's succeeded.
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


> This"justify your existence, librarians!" rhetoric is disgraceful and reflects a disturbing and dang scary cultural trend.

Good lord that article is depressing, and would be even if I wasn't a librarian. Americans spend (just to pick one stat at random) $1.9 billion dollars a year on Easter candy, but you're closing libraries to save a few bucks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:58 AM on May 16, 2011


Why is it that corporations of all sizes are willing to spend good money on researchers, archivists, data managers and information analysts? Could it be that this kind of work has value? Are not the skills required for this kind of work pertinent to librarianship? Are there not if fact librarians who fill some of these positions? If the public is turning its back on librarianship, well, we will always have the private sector.
posted by No Robots at 10:14 AM on May 16, 2011


I think Godin actually does try to introduce something into the discourse that actually does justify the existence of both librarian and libraries. He picks out a few things I'm happy to let slide. Librarians resented having videos in? Really? But his point - that librarians offer the skills to access information in creative and interesting ways - and do so in a social setting that reaches deeply into the community where they're sited, is much more interesting than any quibbles I might have with him ( I don't think he's quite on the money with why libraries are trying to offer access to eBooks. The analogy would be more to the way they successfully manage to offer subscription to prohibitively expensive databases). Emphasise the value of the more varied and indepth experience libraries can offer, both because of their range of resources - and the social experiences thay can offer, and it picks up the value of the non-digital resources that contribute value. It reframes the idea of what the library offers in a way that allows the competition to be on terms where the library can actually say something positive about what it offers over and above how well it reproduces the digital experience.
posted by aesop at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2011


Argh, I forgot to include an article from Panlibus about linked data in libraries. It's on page 16 of this PDF.

Sarah Bartlett adopts an ontology for the relationships between texts (and proposes that librarians can make these links) [Audio of Sarah at the link]

Architextuality – This links the text to a grouping such as a literary genre.
Intertextuality – The presence of a text in another text, in the form of a quotation or allusion.
Paratextuality – Elements on the threshold of the text – titles; introductions; notes; book covers.
Metatextuality – When one texts presents criticism of or commentary on another text.
Hypertextuality – Transformation of an entire text into another, such as Homer’s Odyssey to Joyce’s Ulysses.
posted by cashman at 10:18 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Agree with blucevalo that it's mystifying that Godin doesn't see librarians as moving in this direction, but I'm glad he's piping up anyway.
posted by aesop at 10:19 AM on May 16, 2011


If the public is turning its back on librarianship, well, we will always have the private sector.

Speaking as a former corporate librarian...nope. Increasingly over the last couple of decades, businesses are getting rid of as many paid positions in knowledge management (the newish name for what corporate librarians do) as they can in favor of centralization and the "it's all on the internet" assumption. This goes for established corporations as well as small businesses, nonprofits, law firms, hospitals, etc.

The philosophy seems to be that if they can just throw enough money at them, the IT crew will put everything of value on the company's intranet so no one has to manage a physical space or physical items anymore. Never mind that IT professionals are not even remotely trained to locate, select, organize, and provide access to content the way librarians are.

There are some librarians getting jobs as "researchers....data managers, and information analysts" at corporations and other organizations, but they're competing with a much larger pool of people than they would be in librarianship, many of whom look better on paper because they've had higher-paying jobs with more monetary/supervisory responsibility than the librarian candidate, and fare better in interviews because they're better at speaking tech-jargon.

(I left out archivists because most are trained at library schools, their name is just as "unsexy" as librarians', and jobs are so extremely scarce in that area that unemployed archivists are looking at other areas of librarianship, or completely different fields, these days if they want to keep food on the table.)
posted by gillyflower at 10:26 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe we need a new type of institution, the book warehouse.

For some reason this suggestion brings to mind Silent Running and the Valley Forge.
posted by waterunderground at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2011


Speaking as a former corporate librarian...nope.

Speaking as a current corporate librarian...yep.

I'm not saying that there isn't a war to waged on this front. But if it isn't waged in the private sector, where the agenda is set, then all is lost for the public sector.
posted by No Robots at 10:29 AM on May 16, 2011


If the public is turning its back on librarianship, well, we will always have the private sector.

For profit institutions are a much different environment from public ones. It's difficult to imagine that there will be any quantity of accessible libraries operated by private interests.

What we need is public places, where we can loiter through stacks of information, without an agenda or bias, beyond providing information to anyone that's interested. It seems naive to assume that private interests will ensure that we have libraries, and that they're accessible to everyone.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:33 AM on May 16, 2011


My point was that if anyone says that libraries, librarians and librarianship are useless, you need only look at how much value is placed on them in certain parts of the private sector.
posted by No Robots at 10:39 AM on May 16, 2011


only some libraries - like the great copyright libraries - were ever meant to be repositories of information. University libraries are specific collections of relevance to their researchers -- of course, only a tiny scrap of information is online and even in the sciences a great many references are in paper only - and you need trained people to organize access to publications whether paper or electronic (who do you think updates the catelogue and the links to electronic journals, or enters the keywords in databases).

The vast majority of libraries developed out of lending libraries: a place to borrow books that one cannot afford / don't wish to buy. Whether books are electronic or not, we need that. We need school libraries so kids can read books and practice their literacy (or else they won't be able to read anything on the Internet), and we need public libraries for the rest of us.

can I hijack this thread to promote "codex" as the word for a paper book bound on one side?
posted by jb at 10:39 AM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure I would have made it through my adolescence intact without a library. Never mind the books, it was a place to escape my parents, a place of solitude without being alone, a place where I didn't feel the pressure to act cool, a place where I could find myself. As a teen, where else can you sit quietly on a cold winter's day, when you don't have money for coffee shops, when mall cops actively discourage you from hanging out, and when you want to be free from the prying eyes and ears of parental units?
posted by desjardins at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


No Robots, can you elaborate?

I'm assuming you mean that you are waging that war, which is great, but not all of us have been able to do so. We aren't all warriors by nature. You can argue that we have to be, but individual librarians don't tend to have a lot of power to stand up against corporate whims, unless they are really incredible think-out-of-the-box social leaders who can garner support from those with influence.

I'm trying to do that at my current job, and so far it's working, but it didn't work at previous ones.
posted by gillyflower at 10:41 AM on May 16, 2011


oh - but the argument that "we need libraries because they house locks of hair or writing desks" is silly. Those are called MUSEUMS - and museums take much better care of those sorts of things than libraries. I've worked in a rare book library; it was heavily biased in favor of storing codices and not artifacts - even some codices that were themselves artifacts (like some art books) threw off the whole system.
posted by jb at 10:42 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Robots: Are there not if fact librarians who fill some of these positions?

Not enough, I would wager, to make it a viable alternative. "Some" of these private-sector positions are also filled by people who are not librarians. I'm not sure what you mean by the agenda being set in the private sector. The public sector is where the wars are fought and where the terms of debate get set. The private sector certainly has a lot of influence over that debate, but it's the public sector that ultimately decides whether many libraries survive or fail. Maybe the agenda-setting's different in Canada than the US, but I can't imagine it being that different. You also fail to account for the fact that in the private sector, access to information is dependent upon economic and social status, i.e., the money that you've got to pay for the access, or if not the money, who you know. If I'm homeless, destitute, low-income, or otherwise disadvantaged, I'm not going to be able to count on a private company giving me free access on a silver platter to the information that I need.

jb: oh - but the argument that "we need libraries because they house locks of hair or writing desks" is silly. Those are called MUSEUMS - and museums take much better care of those sorts of things than libraries. I've worked in a rare book library; it was heavily biased in favor of storing codices and not artifacts - even some codices that were themselves artifacts (like some art books) threw off the whole system.

Do we really need to start a snarky argument about which is better at its mission or more important to preserve, libraries or museums?
posted by blucevalo at 10:46 AM on May 16, 2011


Gillyflower:

Yes, I like to believe that I am waging a war on behalf of librarianship.

It isn't easy. I started out by working for library software vendors. Then I worked as a news librarian, and then as research director for a book series. I am now at a small chemical lab.

On the other front is the overcoming of shyness among librarians. It's hard to convince them that their moment is now, that they should be running the show as far as the entire society is concerned.
posted by No Robots at 10:46 AM on May 16, 2011


An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars.

And go to any used bookstore and you'll see tons of pocketbooks from the 60s and 70s with original prices much much lower than that.
posted by aspo at 10:50 AM on May 16, 2011


(I'm not sure why this person used 1962 dollars... it's not like 1.60 was a nice round number, or that 1962 was some major watershed year...)
posted by aspo at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2011


No Robots: More power to you in waging the war. I just want you to be aware of the many librarians who don't know how to fight, or who fight and get (metaphorically) killed.

I totally agree that the moment is now, and that it's hard to convince librarians who are more book-people than people-people that they have skills the world needs and can provide stellar service. It took me years to understand that I as a person am the only thing that defines my library as a library, and not a book closet, and that the working relationships I form with my patrons are what keeps them coming back, not the particular selection of information in the library. It took the sharpening of my skills to where I can respond to requests with information that amazes the patron and goes beyond what they asked for. It also took a whole lot of hard social lessons, not the least of which was learning to provide service with a smile and a look in the eye--something that is really, really hard for a lot of shy people, or people with social skills deficits. But it's paid off here (even if it didn't at previous jobs).

Not that this is anything new to No Robots...just elucidating it here for others to read.
posted by gillyflower at 10:56 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do we really need to start a snarky argument about which is better at its mission or more important to preserve, libraries or museums?

Museums: Easier to get lost in. Easier to get startled in (OMG giant squid). Can't bring in food or beverages. Often full of loud, snotty schoolchildren.

Libraries: Have big books you can touch. Some are full of maps!
posted by desjardins at 11:10 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The premise strikes me as wrong given that libraries no longer warehouse the databases they subscribe to.

Agreed. But to look at that from another perspective, what can libraries do (or what have they done) in terms of making the databases of information they do warehouse more accessible? Maybe libraries could make their own websites better, and publish/license more of the data they have in relation to patterns of usage. Instead of letting the publish industry dominate the conversation about what people want to read, publish information every year from the library system which shows the changing trends in readership (and reminds people about the existence and value of libraries).
posted by anigbrowl at 11:24 AM on May 16, 2011


The idea of librarian as information scientist is not a new one.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2011


Of course, when libraries do something other than warehouse books they get attacked.

anigbrowl: Given availability of staff and funding, the libraries I'm familiar with do that. But another thing that bothers me about the Godin post is that there seems to be a big class bias. Quite a bit of library programs and support goes to groups that are pretty unsexy in political terms.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2011


the library is not a warehouse it is a research environment
posted by zenwerewolf at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2011


I strongly suspect that it would suddenly become very, very wrong as soon as people found out that libraries were giving away whatever book you want, for you to own, for free.

What on Earth would be wrong with that? Now that would be a useful library!

I just wish he wouldn't equate Wikipedia with the be-all and end-all of knowledge

I just wish he would fact-check on Wikipedia first. This part:

Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.

This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read books that they didn't have to own. The library as warehouse for books worth sharing.

Only after that did we invent the librarian.


seems plain wrong (as others have mentioned...)

Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country.

This also just seems dead wrong. Compare Netflix's television offerings to the MTR. Which is more comprehensive? Gee...

When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it's not that the mall won, it's that the library lost.

?????

I figured I should finish to fairly comment ... and I'm glad I did b/c I agree with his Internet access and "place" commentary and his belief that librarians are very important. So I guess it's not all nonsense, but close.

I think there are a million different paths for libraries and librarians to take post-Internet. It will be interesting to see where they go, but I think the warehouse model is still of critical importance.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2011


Do we really need to start a snarky argument about which is better at its mission or more important to preserve, libraries or museums?
posted by blucevalo at 1:46 PM on May 16 [+] [!]


Sorry - I didn't mean to say that libraries aren't good at preserving things - they are excellent. It's just that most rare-books/preservation libraries are optimized for preserving codices, and it's awkward for them to preserve artifacts (though some try). Really, I was mostly thinking that artifact presevation isn't a good argument in favour of supporting libraries as we already have other institutions that specialise in this -- also, it's not something that most libraries do - the most threatened libraries are not the large, famous ones with rare items, but local branches of public libraries and school libraries.

Different libraries have different purposes. Public libraries - that is, libraries aimed at the general public - are extremely important as non-commercial community spaces - places to read and write, to access the internet, just to sit quiet out of the weather - and as places where one can provide community services - books for groups to book, classes in computing and other skills. They reach poorer people and older people. They also lend - as opposed to sell - books and CDs and DVDs - all sorts of media, all of which are important. Arguing that most recent scientific journals are on the web, or that one can buy ebooks, makes no difference to these functions.

In the paper today and on the radio they have been talking about how Ontario schools are losing all their libraries and librarian-teachers. This is so misguided - where else will kids have easy access to lots of age-appropriate books to encourage them to read, and to which a teacher can take them by walking down the hall? Literacy depends on practice. And where else will they learn the basics of data-management and research, like understanding cateloguing systems (which means understanding categorising) and how to do searches, etc? Even if data is on the internet, you need to learn the principles of finding information. I have noticed that I am often able to find things on websites that other people don't; I can only think that is because I spent years shelving in libraries, and then retrieving library articles, and learning how to structure searches in literature databases.
posted by jb at 1:43 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had this year easy access to a well-stocked, honest-to-god library for the first time in my life. It's an amazing resource.
posted by ersatz at 5:06 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Elsevier today announced the launch of the SciVerse Applications Apps for Library Idea Challenge. The international competition encourages librarians and information professionals to conceptualize solutions to the challenges that they and their constituents face in addressing the search and discovery of information."
posted by cashman at 7:07 PM on May 16, 2011


This seems as good a place as any to post this awesome profile of a library done in watercolor: Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library.

It makes some very relevant points, beautifully.
posted by cali at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


gillyflower, I'm a former librarian and I understand how much librarians want to give me all those things I asked for above and how little publishers seem to want to help them do that.

But by the same token, I also worked with a number of librarians who, no matter how many times we had research done, no matter how many times user surveys came back and told them differently, refused to believe that our users wanted as little librarian interaction as possible.

Something as simple as a search interface that mimicked Google better than any other ILS I'd seen was not wanted because the bulk of the librarians complained that it didn't have a search by title or author on the front page. Because it was solely a keyword search from the get go and this wasn't good enough.

There are a lot of wonderful librarians out there that are busting their asses to adapt and provide the public with the access to information that they need, but working side by side with them are librarians who can not see beyond the tiny little scraps of turf they carved out a decade ago.

Honestly, I'm not sure I know what road librarians should be going down. That's one reason why I left the field. I was tired of having the same arguments with my peers over and over again. I do know the only thing that will help libraries continue is for the public to understand and value librarians as much as the librarians value themselves. And that's a hard road regardless.
posted by teleri025 at 9:33 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]



I have noticed that I am often able to find things on websites that other people don't; I can only think that is because I spent years shelving in libraries, and then retrieving library articles, and learning how to structure searches in literature databases.
You're mistaking the benefits of experience with the benefits of the medium. There is nothing inherently educative about physical books and the systems used to store information about them. Also your data is self-selecting, drawn as it is from a sample of one who is inclined to consider and manipulate metadata.

Electronic resources have provided and will contine to provide learning opportunities for people interested in organizing information about information. It's no longer even a question of when the preponderance of that information will be electronic as opposed to printed.

Educational value does not by itself offer sufficient reason for preserving libraries (especially considering the devaluation of education in the US). The best argument, in my opinion, for the continued funding of public libraries resembles the arguments laid above regarding the cultivation of community in a non-commercial environment, one that accommodates people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.
posted by mistersquid at 5:26 AM on May 17, 2011


Article from the guardian on threatened libraries there
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on May 17, 2011


This seems as good a place as any to post this awesome profile of a library done in watercolor: Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library.

Actually this already hit the blue yesterday.
posted by cashman at 10:44 AM on May 17, 2011


There are a lot of wonderful librarians out there that are busting their asses to adapt and provide the public with the access to information that they need, but working side by side with them are librarians who can not see beyond the tiny little scraps of turf they carved out a decade ago.

I know. And I HATE that they are there, and I HATE that their patrons remember every small negative experience they had with them until the end of time. But all I personally can do is try not to be like that myself--seeing as how I have no library co-workers to influence.

If we're talking search interfaces, my local regional library system's new Koha ILS's search page starts with a generic keyword search for the first time ever (with other options on a pull-down menu, and a separate advanced search). I'm proud of them for going that far. I still think there's far too much on the main page (and let's not even talk about the advanced search page), but they still have orientation information to convey, since the interface is only a few months old.
posted by gillyflower at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2011


Sorry, but mimicking Google doesn't cut it for library catalogs. Sure, make that an option for those customers who want it. By why impose it on everyone? Why play follower rather than leader? As I wrote in another thread, the real action in librarianship is in making e-catalog browsing fun, exciting, rewarding, and full of serendipity. Instead, though, library catalogs are following the Google model, and becoming an inane jumble. Heck, our local library catalog doesn't even allow browsing of the author, title and subject lists.
posted by No Robots at 3:13 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm very frustrated that a local university library no longer allows you to restrict searches to authors or specific titles. I want to be able to search for "managment of common lands" and not get anything from the business section -- just books that EXACTLY match the title I put in. But, instead, the ever so helpful new catelegue keeps throwing loose matches at me.
posted by jb at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2011


jb:

I got into a text debate with the local library tech guy. I said, "What if I want to browse the list of subjects that start with 'herbs,' so I can see all the variants like 'herbs-Canada' and 'herbs-medicinal?'" The guy answered, "What would you want to do that for? Not even librarians need to do that."
posted by No Robots at 3:29 PM on May 17, 2011


Oh - access to subject lists is SO essential to secondary source research! I haven't tried lately, but there are many sources I never would have found if I hadn't started browsing the subject lists like "Drainage - Early Works to 1800," "Drainage - England," "Drainage - Europe" ...

I also used to structure literature searches in the old Medline database for both basic secondary and meta-analysis searches using the subject headings -- and I could see the tree of the heirarchies, which was invaluable. I always wished that historians had access to heirarchially structured subjects for our literature databases.
posted by jb at 4:37 PM on May 17, 2011


They're just throwing away all these syndetic structures that generations of librarians spent their lives developing. Tragic.
posted by No Robots at 7:55 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a former cataloger, so I do get the whole concept of searching by subject and using more refined searches to do the heavy lifting in searches. But what I was talking about was making the front end search easier to navigate and more like most people's searching experiences. Which is Google.

Most ILSs I've run across have the ability, at least in recent years, to do this Google-like entry to the catalog and also allow for a more advanced search. The problem that I ran into was that many of our reference librarians refused to see the benefit to using the initial single search box as the front end of the catalog search. Despite the fact that we had multiple user surveys indicating that was exactly what our students wanted. They felt that if we took away the title/author/subject search from the initial entry to the catalog students would never click on the button that said "Advanced Search" to get there. And therefore they would miss out on a ton of information.

They were also frustrated because the way they used the catalog was not via keyword searches and they didn't see why they needed to learn a different way to search in order to instruct students on this new way.

There's a lot of sides to this puzzle and figuring out what works best for your users is key. My frustration, and one of the reasons why I quit being a librarian, is when librarians ignore what users are saying in favor of their own preferences. My point is that librarians are the pros and they should be able to figure out a few extra steps to get to advanced searches, rather than forcing a more complex search down the throats of basic users for their own convenience.
posted by teleri025 at 11:38 AM on May 18, 2011


The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.
posted by cashman at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2011


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