My last column addressed some of the tensions that underlie the idea of “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” in library leadership, and at the end I promised that my next would deal in a similar way with trying to balance the occasional tension between problems that are truly important and those that are merely “noisy.” However, an issue has come up in the meantime that is more timely and urgent, so I’m putting off the “noisy vs. important” column until next time. This month I want to address the issue of patron privacy in the context of the recent revelations about privacy incursions in the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions.
Some of the most creative and flexible librarians I know have been working for more than a few years in libraries. Some of the most inspiring and influential professionals in our field have had distinguished careers and still continue to make a mark on our governance and future. I was lucky to learn about collection development, reference service, and weeding during my public library days from professionals who had worked in the system for multiple decades. These are the same folks who did not shy away from the Internet and its affordances in the mid 1990s.
When President Barack Obama appointed Susan H. Hildreth as director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2011, many in the profession knew we were in for a robust four years of activity by that federal agency. Hildreth had already been influencing the library landscape for years in major leadership roles, including time heading major public libraries (San Francisco and Seattle) and the California State Library.
From the moment I entered the hushed, sacred precinct of the Brownsville Children’s Library in Brownsville, Brooklyn, back in the mid-1930s, I have been a passionate advocate of the public library. That love affair with libraries inspired a lifetime of heavy patronage in every part of the country I have lived. In my twelve-year stay in Jackson Hole, WY, I helped shepherd our lovely little library from a log cabin, into what is now one of the best modern libraries in the Midwest. I was enormously proud to serve as its president.
The beginning of each semester always rejuvenates me. There is nothing more stimulating than those first few sessions with a class of expectant students, arriving with their high energy, curiosity, and desire to participate and impress. My new class at Pratt Institute’s SILS came to New York from all over America and the world. The students range in age from their 20s to their 60s, which has so often been typical of my LIS classes. It is a great privilege and honor to work with them to try to answer the accursed questions that continue to plague our profession.
DOCTOR WHO Day began as an idea for a teen program, but it blossomed to include patrons of all ages, since adults and kids often asked if they could attend the Doctor Who episode screenings that young adult librarian Aimee Villet hosted at the Robbins Library. Library staff in every department were enthusiastic about contributing the needed 75 hours of time for the all-Saturday program, with episode screenings, trivia, crafts, a costume contest, a fan art gallery, a TARDIS hunt, and a TARDIS photo booth. (TARDIS [time and relative dimension in space] is Dr.Who’s time machine for the uninitiated.)
Only about 12 percent of an average U.S. library budget is for books and other content. Antilibrary zealots will latch onto this statistic eventually, downplaying that libraries are about much more than books. A good proactive response would be a national digital library endowment and separate but allied digital library systems—one for public library patrons, the other mainly for academia, even though everyone could access both. New digital efficiencies could help libraries offer taxpayers even more value than they do now.
I participated in a series of meetings last week to determine how the Duke Libraries would respond to the bankruptcy filing made by subscription agent Swets. We have been through this before, when Faxon/RoweCom failed, and many libraries lost a lot of money. Unfortunately, more money is going to be lost this time around. Perhaps it is time for us to think about how we got into this situation——and how to make sure we never end up back here again.