This is sort of an open letter to some librarians I’ve encountered in the last year or so. The encounters left me puzzled as to what the librarians thought they were accomplishing. There are a lot of passionate, indeed even angry, librarians out there, and I would like to offer some advice on how to persuade other people rather than alienate them.
In my last column, I talked about some general principles that academic library administrators should bear in mind when faced with requests from other entities on campus to occupy space in the library (either temporarily or permanently). Those principles were: first, remember that the library does not belong to you; second, say “yes” or “no” based on strategy, rather than on a knee-jerk defensive reaction; third, remember that cooperation creates political capital. With this column I would like to share some of what we’ve learned in my library about building and maintaining happy and mutually beneficial relationships with those non-library entities that do find their way into the library building.
In a course I teach, we spend a little time thinking about the role fear plays in the construction of social issues. Philip Jenkins and Joel Best have both written persuasively about the ways in which anxiety is a potent lever for influencing public opinion and gaining attention for various causes. Once a problem has been identified and named, various claims-makers have incentives to associate their pet issues with the named threat, often expanding the domain of the problem by widening its purported influence. In the process, the threat is often distorted.
Everyone who teaches copyright uses the same metaphor, I think. Copyright is a “bundle of sticks.” A property owner is said to have a bundle, where each “stick” represents an exclusive right. I had not really thought deeply about this metaphor until it was raised at a conference I attended whose theme was what a new copyright law might look like. There was a lot of talk about the problems with the current law. Until then it had not occurred to me that one of those problems was the bundle of rights itself.
I’ve finally dumped Gmail forever. Though the process took quite some time—moving mailing-list subscriptions, changing profiles on websites that knew me by my Gmail address, extracting the messages I needed to keep, and similar chores—the relief of a little more freedom from Google’s privacy-invasive data mining has been well worth the trouble for me. I want as little as possible to do with a company that allegedly thinks trawling and keeping behavior-profile data from college students’ school-mandated, school-purchased email accounts without notice or consent is in some way ethical.
Today I want to talk about one of the greatest services academic libraries offer to scholars, one that is absolutely essential for any sort of advanced scholarship, and one that is facing the biggest obstacle of its 140-or-so-year-old existence. I’m talking about interlibrary loan (ILL) and the threat it faces from ebooks.
In academic libraries, there seems to be growing concern about the problem of space—not only a lack of it in our library buildings, though that is a problem for many of us, but also a concern that the spaces we do have are going to be (or already are) taken over by campus entities and programs that are related only tangentially, if at all, to library services. I’m convinced that this concern is valid, and that it should actually be more widespread than it currently is.
The first phase of the Lever Initiative is nearly complete, so it seems a good time to share what we’ve learned. In 2010, I sent an email to a group of liberal arts college library directors suggesting a crazy idea: what if we jointly investigated the possibility of starting an open access press? We formed a task force to explore the idea. The next step, should we decide to go forward, will be to explore what exactly we might do and how we would fund it.
Some of the best new professionals I meet and teach are leaving academic libraries. Another scholarly-communication librarian in an academic library got in touch with me online last week about finding a different kind of job. I’m well-used to these messages from scholarly communication librarians and research data managers new to the profession; sometimes they’re my former students, sometimes they’re conference acquaintances or folk I converse with online. Like the other pre-departure messages I’ve gotten, this one came from the kind of new professional every academic library claims to need: smart, tech-savvy, creative, passionate, hard-working, up-to-date, and consciously committed to staying that way. Like the other pre-departure messages I’ve gotten, this one breathed disillusionment and burnout. I’m worried.
My last column critiqued a science/religion analogy regarding debates about the future of libraries and scholarly publishing. It seems to be the season for science and religion analogies when discussing scholarly publishing, because this post at Scholarly Kitchen also uses the analogy, sort of. The post argues, rightly in my opinion, that extremists make discussion and cooperation impossible.