Monday, October 24, 2005

EDUCAUSE review editorial scolds librarians

The editor of EDUCAUSE review, Paul Gandel, has published a short but severe scolding to librarians for not getting with it. Says the commercial front is going to overwhelm us and we will disappear off the face of the earth. Or something like that.

In some ways this guy is just another Chicken Little, but he is pointing out some of the issues we need to be thinking about. And some of them are larger than just the library world.

I'll stop here and put my ranting in a comment so that you can skip on to the next item in your overly busy day.


Bea said...

Thanks for mentioning this one...he makes several excellent points. In my position at a small college, I need to be concerned that unsophisticated folks (names shall not be mentioned) may make decisions without weighing things carefully. E.g. the UT Austin decision to remove its UG library sounds radical if one doesn't know the history of how undergrad libraries came to be in the first place. Like the character in 9 to 5 played by Jane Fonda, I keep thinking "Don't panic!". We need some very thoughtful and articulate librarians to respond to pieces like this, IMHO.

Susan said...

I think the article raises some valid points. We should be thinking about the future of libraries. We shoud be, and I think are, concerned with the information needs of patrons. We should be watching Google to see what they are doing...but I think it would be foolish to try to compete with them. Non-profit vs. wealthy company. Hmmm.

Here's what is key, imho. My understanding is that Google is built on a search algorithm that pulls up the most linked to web pages to the top of a list. This is based on the premise that people will link to the best pages. Obviously this has flaws (think splogs).

Libraries shape collections. Build them up, grow them, weed them. We think about preservation. How has Google done that? Once they scan all those works what are they going to do to migrate them to the platform that supercedes the Internet (it could happen)? Who's jumping on Google for not thinking about that? What does Google care for making information accessible to all people in a society? Think public library, think federal depository.

Let's consider the empty library. It would consist of aggregated databases and webpages. This is not a library. Not a real collection. It's a souped up computer lab with packages you can buy.

I think the UT article was a terrible one for most college libraries across the country. We can't afford to empty our libraries out into other libraries like UT did. We can't afford to not have our future nurses accessing anatomy books, to not have our law students learning how to conduct legal research.

There is a such a thing as a sexy, hot idea that is fun to work with (like institutional repository, open access, or SFX or whatever it is at the moment) but you don't disembowel your library and replace it with an empty room.

Getting rid of your library is the first step to getting rid of your librarians. If an institution is ready to do that, they should replace their accountants with calculators on every desk and see how that flies with the auditors.

Okay, I'll get off my rant now.