Over the years there have been a large number of news and opinion articles about libraries to which Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applies.
“Is the library doomed?” No. “Are books dead?” No. “Should I write about libraries even if I know nothing about libraries?” Please don’t.
This week’s example comes from a website called Research Information, which is a nice vague title that allows for almost anything. The headline: Time to call time on the library catalogue?
The motivating factor was a presentation by “a PhD student at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology” who talked about how he found his research material. What was missing from the list was the library OPAC.
So a scientist at a research institute doesn’t look for books in the library he doesn’t really have.
But wait, there’s more!
Someone from the University of Utrecht “noted in her presentation how, while traffic to the library’s journal holdings had grown, the proportion of access to these holdings via the library catalogue had dropped dramatically.”
Notice there’s no talk of books, and no indication that the actual use of the library catalog had dropped, just the proportion of access to the library’s journal holdings.
I suspect that’s true of a lot of libraries. However, this trend doesn’t give enough information to decide to abandon library catalogs because it’s not saying anything about the people who do use library catalogs, just the people who don’t.
Nevertheless, the University of Utrecht got rid of its catalog. The explanation of this process might be my favorite bit:
Before phasing the catalogue out we had to prepare users because the statistics showed that it was still used by many and we knew there would be disappointed users,’ she explained. Steps to help the transition included removing information about the catalogue from the library homepage beforehand and providing support and information about alternative routes to the content.
So the stats showed a lot of people still used the catalog, but they got rid of it anyway. Always good for librarians to ignore the people who use the library in ways the librarians have decided they don’t like anymore. How dare those patrons not do research the way we want them to!
And I’m sure that transition was “helped” by removing information about the catalog from the website. Catalogs are like Band-Aids, it seems, best removed quickly.
The article ends with the vague conclusion that whatever libraries do they should pay attention to people who don’t use library catalogs, and presumably ignore the people who actually do.
It’s as if I’d written an article about a historian who said at a conference that she used the library catalog a lot, and also the archives, and concluded that libraries should mainly focus on OPACs and archives.
I’m assuming every library in Europe has gotten rid of its printed book collection. That’s the only relevant information that might justify getting rid of OPACs. I’m sure the person writing this article thought heavily about all the relevant information but failed to mention it.
Maybe the Bibliothèque Nationale de France should get rid of its catalogue général and organize everything like a bookstore might.
Of course, this is an article written for scientists claiming “the way that researchers find information is changing and libraries need to change with it.”
So maybe some of the scientific researchers at the University of Cambridge should start a movement to get rid of their Newton Library Catalogue because the scientists don’t need it anymore.
Meanwhile they could probably get rid of a lot of the scientific research because it’s just too darn expensive. Wait, that’s what the British government is already trying to do.
Gosh, it’s almost as if people who never use a thing think that thing should go away because they get no direct benefit. Lots of people don’t use libraries. Scientists don’t use OPACs. Politicians don’t use science labs.
Usually libraries and governments supply things some people need. Car drivers need roads. Children need education. People who look for books need OPACs. Society needs scientists.
Going about things this way, a lot of people get the things they need. But going by the backwards logic of “Research Information,” you’re pretty much guaranteed that no one will get anything they need, because unless everyone needs it no one gets it.
You’d think scientists would be more logical than that, but science journalists maybe not so much.