The iconic image of library workers pushing book trucks is quickly slipping into obsolescence. According to figures from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), student employment in libraries dropped 23 percent between 2000 and 2010, while support staff declined 16 percent. If the 2008 recession played a role in these declines, it somehow failed to prevent the library professional category from rising 9 percent in the same period. In fact, it is the evolving nature of library work that is driving these changes, not the recession. Lower skill library work is disappearing, and it will never come back.
What would happen to our libraries if the following statement became a reality: “If you can buy a book, you can’t borrow it?” What if I told you that it’s on the verge of happening internationally, and in a way that is pretty despicable? For years, international negotiations have been moving forward on a treaty is to make it possible for people who are blind, or have other print disabilities like dyslexia, to get access to the books they need. At first, private interests were supportive. Then, they realized they could squeeze something out of this treaty that would greatly benefit them—stricter international copyright law.
The personality, or personomy, or personhood/agency, of Edward Snowden is drawing lots of attention at the moment. He has been attacked and praised. As I have written elsewhere, some of those attacks walk parallel lines to a lie, but here I’d like to consider something that happened way back in the last decade. Forget Snowden for a minute.
Michael Kelley’s April 29, 2013 editorial “Can We Talk about the MLS?” and the 157 comments posted to that article so far prompted us to consider accountability for the American Library Association’s (ALA) accreditation of graduate programs in library and information science. The ALA Standards emphasize what programs must accomplish in terms of strategic planning and student learning outcomes. ALA does not dictate what those outcomes should be nor does it specify any particular courses that must be offered in an MLIS program. So, what does it mean to be a graduate of an ALA accredited program?
During the past twelve years, librarianship has been my ticket to adventure. Fueled by wanderlust and a burning curiosity about libraries and locations all over the U.S., I embarked on an expedition of discovery just after receiving my MLIS. During this journey, I worked on all three coasts and gained invaluable experience in academic libraries that included community colleges and universities large and small, public and private. I have seen exemplary practices and have survived dysfunction. I have interviewed countless times and have sat on the other side of the interview table as a search committee member on many occasions. Some of the places and faces I have encountered I miss dearly. Others looked best as they shrank in my rear-view mirror. I have laughed, I have learned. I have made mistakes that I’m hoping to help you avoid.
Library leaders at all levels are, and will be, in great demand in the coming days and years. Our profession is caught in the societal turbulence that grips us all. Budgets are tight, debts are huge, and technology is forcing change in all facets of society. These challenges will demand energetic and wise leadership if our profession is to prosper. What qualities will best enable our leaders to lead successfully for themselves, their libraries, and the profession?
“We need to work as a team.” “Let’s do it for the good of the team.” “You aren’t working as a team player.” Those phrases can be heard around many offices, often during meetings, in the halls, or from the CEO. Another phrase with which everyone is familiar is “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” Teamwork is undoubtedly an important buzzword in the workplace today. As someone who has often had to be a “solo” presence in my work responsibilities, I have really relished the experiences I have had as a part of team atmosphere. My teamwork experiences have been instrumental in providing opportunities for innovation and growth. That said, I would have to dispute that there is no “I” in teamwork.
As technology has become central to American life, nearly every organization leverages data to improve its performance. Political campaigns analyze potential voters. Credit-reporting agencies devise algorithms to predict who can repay loans and credit cards. Businesses reach potential customers with highly targeted marketing and advertising messages. Yet when it comes to analyzing their own data, many libraries have not really been able to capitalize on it.
On October 20 I had the privilege of attending the memorial service for Clara Stanton Jones in Oakland, CA. Her death on September 30 at age 99 gives us the opportunity to pay homage to her, and reflect on of the personal and professional sacrifices of generations of trailblazing librarians. For over a century librarians have been willing to place themselves on the bleeding edge of social change in America, and Clara was a model in that respect.
There have been many efforts to quantify the return on investment of a library. Researchers take into account the cost of public meeting space, computer use, books checked out, and other factors, and have found that libraries return several times more value to the community than they cost. While those factors may be easier to quantify, I would like to revive a simpler definition of a library: it’s a place with books. The benefits of these books to the community are difficult to quantify, but research on the effects of reading shows us that the benefits are also difficult to overstate. As we adapt to the Information Age, we must be cautious not to forget about one of our core services.