One of the joys of teaching is reconnecting with students years later as they pursue their careers. I recently had lunch and a long discussion with Patti Foerster, who had been a student a decade ago in my class at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library & Information Science, River Forest, IL.
I was surprised when the news came that the School of Information and Library Science at New York’s Pratt Institute had changed its name to the School of Information. I’ve been an adjunct professor there for more than three decades, and I was saddened at first that this old, venerable school, the second such school in the nation, was dropping “library science” from its name. After reading letters from Dean Tula Giannini and Pratt’s provost Kirk E. Pillow, I was somewhat reassured. I realize that this is now the direction of things and marks real progress in staying abreast of this digital age and the growing discipline once called information science. That field now carries a version of that name or informatics or just plain information studies. It is professed in every college and university these days, a kind of darling in higher ed. So it is understandable for Pratt to take that step.
I’m always surprised when librarians who read LJ complain because we allow anonymous comments to be published or posted. In a message on our Feedback page, Andrea Segall, a retired librarian who worked at the Berkeley Public Library, CA, and is involved in a protest against that library’s current weeding practices and program, takes LJ to task for allowing anonymous comment.
“I am not a librarian, but I am THE librarian!” Daniel Boorstin said to me several times when he was Librarian of Congress. It seemed to amuse him, and it only slightly annoyed me. There had been some controversy over President Gerald Ford, like so many before him, appointing a distinguished elder scholar to lead the Library of Congress (LC) rather than a credentialed, experienced librarian. Of the 13 Librarians of Congress, only two were really librarians.
Enjoying retirement, I was watching my second old flick on TCM when Lillian Gerhardt called. She is the former editor of School Library Journal, and we worked together for a decade or more many years ago. Both of us were totally engaged, maybe obsessed, with libraries and the profession and addicted American Library Association (ALA) critics. I was happy to hear that, like me, she was still watching the association. This time she urged me to comment on “The Advocacy Continuum” by ALA executive director Keith Fiels in the May issue of American Libraries (p. 6–7).
Recently I ENJOYED a long-postponed lunch with two of my closest and most beloved colleagues from these past few decades. My connection with Nora Rawlinson, now running the incredibly useful selection and acquisitions website EarlyWord, began in arguments over whether libraries, through their book and materials acquisitions, should “give ’em what they want”—that is, buy for popular demand—or “give ’em what they need” by trying to select and acquire those items that qualify as classics, or essential information sources. Nora and I also disputed centralized vs. distributed book selection. Seeing Nora again reminded me that debates over library book and materials selection have been with us since the beginnings of the public library movement.
Two keys to success become apparent when you review the transformations so many libraries have achieved in recent years. The most important is community involvement, and that means much more than simple publicity, marketing, and fundraising efforts. It has meant making community leaders and all residents an integral part of the planning and execution of the library’s whole turnabout—from early in the process until it is finished—which ensures their interest, satisfaction with the result, civic pride, and continued participation.
The future of the American public library is taking shape. I see it in all kinds of libraries. The public, politicians, and local and national media are now noticing the relevance and central role of these libraries. These institutions are delivering a trusted set of up-to-date programs and services and that has earned a far more positive public and political reaction than the one enjoyed by most other agencies of the local, state, and federal governments.
My optimistic aging memory had me waiting for the economy to do what it used to do and recover enough so that the public and private nonprofit sectors by which most libraries are funded would catch up with the already recovered private sector. So I was a bit taken aback when Siobhan Reardon, the president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia and LJ’s 2015 Librarian of the Year, told me that wasn’t going to happen.