In our turbo-charged world, we are expected to work at a fast pace, move in the fast lane, and not fall off the fast track. If life is speeding up, we need to go faster or, better yet, perform multiple activities simultaneously. We hold speed in high regard, paying premium rates for quick delivery and instant gratification. Best-selling business books equate speed with efficiency, accomplishment, and success. But there is a hidden cost to such an existence.
A colleague once told me that librarians get into management like penguins falling off an ice floe. While it’s not the most flattering image, it felt a little too apt during my first year as an assistant director. Moving into leadership has been the single most formative experience of my career. It’s also been one of my most difficult professional challenges, and sometimes I still relate all too well to a flailing, flightless bird dropping into icy water.
Ryan Cordell, Northeastern University (NU), Boston, and his colleagues are studying how information went “viral” in 19th-century America, when newspapers and periodicals published short works of fiction, poetry, and other prose. Before modern copyright law, it was common for editors to reprint these texts, originally published elsewhere. The texts moved around the country through this network, resulting in a shared print culture. Cordell’s research seeks to identify these shared texts, to examine which were reprinted and why, and to map how they traveled and changed as they passed from publication to publication.
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.
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.
Most library professionals know how easy it is to get caught up in the whirlwind of daily tasks as we struggle to keep pace with demanding jobs and a rapidly changing profession. Sometimes, this can make us lose sight of why we entered librarianship in the first place—the basics that made this career mean so much to us. Those things we value most, like offering access to quality information, maintaining a diverse collection that appeals to everyone, preserving older titles for new generations, and serving the public good.
This is the true story of how the librarians of New Zealand’s largest city decided to show a little leg and unleash the power of burlesque on its community.
How often do librarians find themselves trying to explain that the library’s mission is not about books but about information? This public misunderstanding about what we are doing and why leads to a community misconception of what we should be doing in the future. The reality is that we as librarians make the same mistake all the time. We know intellectually that informational flow and access are our main missions, but our decisions and our hearts often put the focus on books. Books, in many cases, remain by far the best delivery vehicle for information, but there are many subject areas where other informational vehicles would be more effective, even if implementing those vehicles might mean less money spent on books.
Open Access (OA) is usually associated with academic scholarship and its relationship to the “paywall” by proponents and critics alike. It is essential to consider the question of OA not only in terms of its impact on publishers and scholars, but in terms of its teaching and learning potential for students and educators.