Some disappointed soul wondered why I would criticize the Darrell Stalemates this week but not the Taiga (so-called) Provocative Statements. Why haven’t I addressed the Taiga Forum and its provocative production? Boredom, mostly, but let’s take a look at them.
For those who don’t know, the Taiga Forum is just a fancy name for a bunch of associate university librarians and assistant directors who get together at ALA and complain about how library directors never seem to retire. That, and they make statements which they think will be provocative. It’s not entirely clear who they intend to provoke, though, because nobody seems to pay them much attention. That’s sort of the nature of being anAUL or AD, really. It’s like being Vice President. Nobody really cares what you have to say. You’re not at the top giving all the orders and you’re not at the bottom doing all the work. So what do you do? You make provocative statements and write performance reviews. Maybe they’re meant to provoke other AULs and ADs, like the ones who don’t show up to the meetings.
They did this three years ago, and I think it’s pretty clear from looking at the past statements why nobody pays any attention to them. Everything, they say, should be prefaced by "Within the next five years…." We’re only three years into their five years, I know, but how dramatically do we expect things to change in two years? So, what did this exceptional group of library second-stringers have to say back then?
How about this one: "Reference and catalog librarians as we know them today will no longer exist." Hmm. I don’t see that happening. What about this dire statement: "there will be no more librarians as we know them. [This seems redundant to me.] Staff may have MBAs or be computer/data scientists. All library staff will need the technical skills equivalent to today’s systems and web services personnel. The everincreasing technology curve will precipitate a high turnover among traditional librarians; the average age of library staff will have dropped to 28." You’re probably starting to get some idea of the low prognostic power of these librarians.
So what are we getting from the current round? Well, there’s this gem: "all librarians will be expected to take personal responsibility for their own professional development; each of us will evolve or die." I’m still trying to figure out what the hell this one even means (which may be one reason I’ve ignored these until now). Each of us will evolve or die? Well, some of us will no doubt have died in the next five years, but it won’t have anything to do with not evolving. And what would it mean to take personal responsibility for our professional development? Does that mean we get no travel money from now on? Wait, do we have to supply our own computers? What about furniture? I need a good chair to to professionally develop; will I have to buy my own chair? (Actually, at my library that’s a distinct possibility for the future, but it has nothing to do with taking personal responsibility and a lot to do with crashing budgets.)
And this one: "collection development as we now know it will cease to exist as selection of library materials will be entirely patron-initiated. Ownership of materials will be limited to what is actively used. The only collection development activities involving librarians will be competition over special collections and archives." These are mostly ARL libraries we’re talking about. I know a thing or three about research libraries, and one thing I know for sure is that you can’t run one like a tuppeny ha’penny rural public library and only buy things patrons ask for or "actively use." I love statements about research libraries that are clearly made by people who don’t do any research. Very impressive! I wonder what the beloved faculty think of this one.
I like this one: "libraries will have given up on the ‘outreach librarian’ model after faculty persistently show no interest in it." As I’ve written, librarians are desperate for the "faculty" to like them, but no one pays attention to the librarians. Since libraries have had outreach librarians for a very long time, and the faculty have never shown any interest, why would things change so suddenly in the next five years? It seems to assume that up until now the faculty have been all excited about librarians or something.
Within five years, "libraries will have abandoned the hybrid model to focus exclusively on electronic collections, with limited investments in managing shared print archives." Yes, and universities will give up the study of anything or anywhere outside of North America. How provincial can these "research" libraries possibly become? Please don’t answer that.
Maybe gloom and doom is supposed to provoke us to something besides sleep. Within five years "… 20% of the ARL library directors will have retired. University administrators will see that librarians do not have the skills they need and will hire leaders from other parts of the academy, leading both to a realignment of the library within the university and to the decline of the library profession." There’s been a bit of discussion about these statements by the usual suspects in the blogs, but I think my favorite comment might be this one from the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog: "Since these statements are coming from AULs & ADs, I find it odd that they don’t seem to think that they are qualified to make the next step and become directors. Or that anyone on their campuses will think that they are." All I have to say is, if you knew some of these people, it might not seem so odd.
The Taiga folk think they’re provoking us with these gloomy statements that can all be summarized thusly: "Libraries are doomed." Librarians have such low professional self-esteem that it doesn’t surprise me much. Some people have compared these to the Darien Stalemates and found them much gloomier, but really they’re based on the same false assumption that everything will radically change sometime very, very soon and if we don’t panic about it and do some major changing we’ll be extinct. Nothing in the history of American libraries warrants that assumption, and nothing in the present outside the heated rhetoric of the frustrated trendsetters, but let’s not be bothered by facts. If anything is going to change libraries, it’s going to be a lack of money, not the rise of Twopointopia. The Taiga gloomsters have no hope, but then again their statements don’t mean much. The Darien Staters are hopeful pollyannas, but they don’t have any more persuasive case that we need radically change or die than anyone else does.
Both these sets of statements are just attempts by some librarians to draw attention to themselves with a lot of hot air and little substance. Trust me on this one: we can smell our own.