I return once or twice a year to the first statement of our mission in Upon the Objects to be Attained by the Establishment of a Public Library, the 1852 Report of the Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston. Possibly the most important document in the history of the free public library in the United States, the report spells out the justifications for the establishment of such a library in that city.
At first, I was offended when Gretchen Whitney recently posted to the JESSE list, which she moderates, a simplistic estimation of the differences between the teaching of part-time faculty and adjuncts and that of tenured and full-time faculty in LIS programs. I took her comments personally, I suppose, because I have been a part-time and adjunct faculty member at more than a half dozen LIS programs for more than 50 years.
I was sad and angry when Mike Kelley’s editorial triggered a host of attacks on the credential with which I began my career. I already worked at the Reading Public Library, MA, when I enrolled in the MLS program at the School of Library Science at Simmons College. It was just before I turned 30, more than five decades ago. The studies for the MLS at Simmons made me a far better practicing librarian than I expected they would. Most important, they converted me from an amateur librarian to a professional.
That titular truism is even more accurate during hard times; the muzzling and corrupting impact of the almighty dollar on the flow of information is magnified in a weak economy. Those with an agenda use their money to influence our politics, our ideology, and our lifestyles and social interactions. We see this sway not only in election campaigns but in the media as they provide our entertainment and report our news. Even the once sacrosanct public media are afflicted with influences that tend to quiet their critique and discussion if it might affect their donors, funding agencies, trustees, and advertisers.
I’ve come to believe that translations from print to sound enhance access to a work. For library users and librarians, the movement of old works into new media presents new opportunities for bringing easy access to entertainment and education to people old and young. This is another tool to improve and expand library service.
Despite my frustrations with The American Library Association (ALA) Council, I voted in its election. The ALA Council’s email list (ALACOUN) has been endlessly repetitious for weeks. It was spurred by an array of fatuous messages from a chapter councilor fixated on cutting the number of at-large councilors in that august body.
Students get to spring and each new semester first with their youth, enthusiasm, commitment to our profession, their innovation and creativity. For me that means they have an edge over we older librarians. We are a bit burned out after our endless struggles to serve through the winters of librarianship, the chronic budget and other shortages that have always made librarianship more difficult and, alas, eroded our professional morale.
The students, meanwhile, believe anew in our core values and carry on our profession’s enthusiastic desire and willingness to serve. They enthusiastically observe and share our faith in the redemptive power of good libraries in a community.
Ongoing efforts by trade and scholarly publishers to demand higher prices for their digitized content and the growing, if flawed, perception that new technologies have made the information function of libraries obsolete have put librarians on the defensive. New devices and methods to deliver the entertainment and information people want have rekindled ancient debates about the mission of the library.
To mollify a chorus of protests from some of the intellectual elite of the city and the nation, Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library (NYPL), got Abby and Howard Milstein to put up the money to make space at 42nd Street to store 3.3 million volumes of 4.5 million planned for remote storage. It was an expensive but responsive move, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Ada Louise Huxtable, the grand dame of architectural critics who writes for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
The cheering echoes still throughout librarianship. Recent court decisions—such as the HathiTrust’s win over the Authors Guild—strengthen the use of the concept of “fair use” to exempt from copyright the reproduction of material, liberate the free digitization of so-called “orphan works,” and allow free public access to the results. Yet even those cheering the loudest caution that there are still no definitive rules to apply to these victories. The victories are yet evidence of the value of well-organized efforts to prevent copyright from locking up our intellectual and cultural resources. The leaders of the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), comprised of the Association of Research Libraries, the American Library Association (ALA), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (an ALA division), deserve the cheers and the continuing support of librarians.