Librarians – to serve, protect (and entertain)


flickr photo shared by North Carolina Digital Heritage Center under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

The role of librarians, libraries, why I’m a librarian, what’s the meaning of it all, and what the future holds has been weighing heavily on my head for a while. It kicked into a high gear this past fall when the institute I work for had its 10 year, external academic review. “Why is there a library?” was asked. “Because it was part of the original plan 60 years ago” is a terrible answer (and not the one I gave). The process of the review helped remind me why we’re here and remind those around us: We’re the collective memory. We preserve access for tomorrow. We have a broad view that fills the gaps of individual projects. That eye on yesterday, today, and tomorrow is critical in the library’s success.

This morning I read Sarah Glassmeyer’s post “What is a Librarian?” and it resonated with me. Her reframing of Ranganathan’s Five Laws Of Library Science are timely and make the reasons why they’re important more explicit. It also encapsulates a lot of my personal philosophies and motives which reminds me why was drawn to the profession, and why I tend to approach my hobbies the way I do. I don’t like books, but I love context, connections, and curation. These motivations have guided my approach to my work in transportation (and also my DJing).

To quote one of my favourite bands, I’m here “to serve, protect, and entertain.”

This ethical frame is even more pertinent this morning as Stewart Varner’s account of how his and Patricia Hswe’s article in American Libraries was hijacked by the editorial staff. From my reading, it seems that the editors at American Libraries really screwed the pooch in turning the¬†article into an advertorial piece for a vendor without making it explicit with the authors, not apologizing, or making it clear. The discussion I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook has been a mix of “American Libraries sucks!” (which I can’t speak to, since I don’t read it) and “vendors are the worst!”, which doesn’t totally seem to the be the case here but it also reflects the messy relationship with librarians, professional associations, and vendors.

Basically, we librarians are terrible at collectively standing up to vendors to treat us with respect, such as not doing advertorial bait and switches. Sometimes the rhetoric gets out of line, but at the core it’s the lack of trust and respect by all involved. If the products were good, fairly priced, and responsive to our needs, then it would be great. This is where professional associations would fill a great need – to facilitate broad industry negotiation. Perhaps I’ve been too involved with SLA, but I don’t see that ever happening.¬†(You can read some of my concerns about “vendor partners” here.) We need to do better though if we actually want to protect. The interests of libraries should benefit as wide of an audience as possible – and that isn’t mutually exclusive with our late market capitalism. So when stuff like this goes down, speak up and address the issue in the moment. Right now it’s editorial transparency from a trad magazine. Tomorrow it will be something else. Keep going though, so we can continue to serve, protect (and entertain).

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