In a column called Peer to Peer Review, it’s appropriate to review our peers once in a while, so I’d like to discuss last week’s column by Rick Anderson on “science and religion in the library.” He’s not talking about the Qs and the Bs. In the column, Anderson writes: “For my purposes here, I’m going to define as ‘science’ those aspects of library work that deal with figuring out and describing things as they are, and as ‘religion’ those that deal with figuring out how things should be and why they should be that way.” My question is, why would he want to make such a distinction?
Let me start out by acknowledging that “Science and Religion in the Library” is a provocative subtitle, and to some degree it’s meant to be. Let me explain what I mean by it. For my purposes here, I’m going to define as “science” those aspects of library work that deal with figuring out and describing things as they are, and as “religion” those that deal with figuring out how things should be and why they should be that way. In the sense that I’m using the terms here, science is descriptive, and religion is prescriptive; science is involved with “is” questions, while religion is involved with “should” questions.
When I read Nina de Jesus’s blog post, “Locating the Library in Institutionalized Oppression,” I stashed it away so that I could mull it over. I am a bit of a library Pollyanna, making grand claims for the values libraries uphold, but I also remember the many times I went into libraries and felt intimidated. I am, aS many undergraduates are, loath to publicly announce my ignorance by asking questions that I can’t quite articulate. Where is everything? How does it work? Am I in the right place? Should I even be here?
A great deal of my professional life is spent trying to make a body of law from the analog age, the 1976 Copyright Act, fit into the digital world. It is a difficult task, but today I want to discuss a different body of law from the same era—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), aka the Buckley amendment—and how it can fit with the new activities we are engaged in in the online age.
In my last column, I discussed research on cognitive bias and the human mind, and speculated that what librarians call information literacy is a deeply unnatural state. The human mind hasn’t evolved to analyze carefully or think critically without a great deal of effort, and even then, the effort is often misplaced. That’s of course one reason we educate people, and higher education particularly values traits like intellectual curiosity and critical thought that often help us overcome our natural intellectual inclinations. But education is not necessarily a salvation.
Can, Should, and Will. Pt. 1: Because What Libraries Need Is One More Venn Diagram | Peer to Peer Review
I came up with the diagram below while I was thinking about library management during a lull in traffic at the reference desk recently. My original intent was sort of wryly humorous (it is hilarious, don’t you think?) but the more time I spend looking at it, the more I think it’s a potentially valuable tool for helping give shape to conversations about priority-setting and decision-making in libraries, and maybe in other organizations as well.
Jamie LaRue, an erstwhile public librarian (recently turned consultant) in Colorado who has done some cool things (such as negotiating directly with publishers for ebooks while refusing to pay crazy amounts for popular titles), has thought-provoking things to say about the dynamics of change in libraries. Reflecting on a discussion at the Arizona Library Association where something he said apparently raised eyebrows, he expanded on his remarks in a blog post, taking particular aim at a pattern he sees (and many of us will recognize) in library organizations. A decision is made, a direction taken, and then the sabotage begins, conducted by people who contributed little to the discussion as the decision was being made.
This year, several announcements and blog posts combined to focus my attention on a slightly different question. What problems can open access solve? The answer seems obvious; open access will solve the problem of highly restricted and limited access to scholarship. A somewhat different problem that OA can help solve is the problem of scholarship locked up in the hands of badly run businesses that have come to believe that their inefficient and ineffective ways of doing business must be preserved at all costs.
I’ve had some strange experiences teaching workshops and continuing-education courses over the last couple of years. These challenges simply don’t happen in my regular library-school classrooms. Sometimes I can easily take them as a salient reminder to me to explain clearly the “why” behind the “what” in my teaching. More often, though, I find myself worried, both for these learners and for the state of the overall pool of professional skill.