A few years ago I went to my optometrist. On hearing I was a librarian, she asked me a fiction reader’s-advisory question. Of course, I’m not a public librarian, or a reference librarian either. Rather than try to explain that to my optometrist, however, I went along with her assumptions about what librarians do by recommending a recent read. It isn’t just optometrists who have narrow notions of what this field encompasses; too often our own notions are barely any broader. This worries me, not least because it doesn’t reflect the variety and opportunity I see in the information professions.
Now that the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education is finished, I finally got around to reading it. I was often critical of parts of the information literacy standards, but haven’t found much to criticize about the “Framework,” although I know others have. Most of the “threshold concepts” are things I’ve been talking about with students for years, so there’s little in it that seems particularly new, except thinking of such ideas as threshold concepts. There was one thing that surprised me, though: the recognition of various forms of privilege.
Recently I attended the conference of a major learned society in the humanities. I was only there for a day, and attended only two sessions: one as a panelist and the other as an observer. Both sessions dealt with issues related to Open Access (OA), and in both of them I was deeply taken aback by the degree to which the scholars in attendance—not universally, but by an overwhelming majority—expressed frustration and even outright anger at the OA community. The word “predatory” was actually used at one point—not in reference to rapacious publishers, but to OA advocates. That was pretty shocking.
Each year the copyright community celebrates January 1 as “Public Domain Day.” That is because a convenient fiction included in most nations’ copyright laws says that if a work’s term of protection expired during the previous year, it officially enters the public domain on the following January 1st. Instead of having to figure out the exact day of an author’s death, and having different works enter the public domain each day, we just save them all up, so that all the works whose term expired in 2014 (i.e., all works whose authors died 70 years earlier, in 1944) entered the public domain on New Year’s Day 2015. At least, they did in most other countries, but not in the U.S.
After three columns in a row about the ebook situation for libraries, I thought I was finished with the discussion, but then I got an email from an ebook vendor. He pointed out that his ebook publishing platform did all the things I had said I wanted from library ebooks, and asked, very politely, why, then, hadn’t my library bought any of them? Here is my answer. It probably doesn’t apply to every library, but it applies to some of them, especially some of the larger ones.
For the sake of argument, let’s all agree that the answer to this question is yes: libraries have a central mission to change the world—to make it a better, more intelligent, more tolerant, more open-minded place, one that is (thanks in part to our professional efforts) increasingly filled with well-informed critical thinkers who will, themselves, take the tools and skills with which the library has provided them and go on to make the world even better. This is what the library exists to do.
It’s been a rough year for the planet. It’s been a rough year for the country. It’s been a rough year for libraries. We face a lot of problems that are complex and scary and it’s easier to name them than to figure out what to do next. But when I look back on 2014 I see some amazing people doing the things that we librarians profess as our core values. Since there’s something about years coming to an end that leads to lists and resolutions, I thought I’d look back and give a shout out to a few of the librarians who have taken difficult situations and made courageous, difficult, affirming choices. These are just some of the many librarians who make me proud to be in this profession.
I don’t call myself a futurist, though I do find enjoyment and sometimes enlightenment in watching what’s going on in the world and trying to extrapolate toward what academic libraries might want to do about it. I also harbor a strong love for examples of novel services and fresh ideas about longstanding services, though I’m old and scarred enough not to take them quite at face value—there’s almost always struggle and conflict behind the scenes that does not get aired in order to keep the peace among librarian colleagues.