February 16, 2018

Stuff I Don’t Understand About Libraries Right Now | Not Dead Yet

I may be trance-channeling Andy Rooney as I write this column (God! How I miss him on 60 Minutes!), because a number of library- (and maybe not-yet-library-) related things that perturb, confuse, absorb, and/or bug me have piled up and I have to ask if any of them irritate, perplex, or fascinate you, too. They include:

  1. Print Versus Digital Books: Why does it have to be either / or with print and ebooks? Can’t we have some of each, for as long as our patrons want them? (today a colleague made reference to a “dead tree edition” of a work, and I’ll freely admit I’d never heard the term before and was horrified by it, tongue in cheek as it may be. Luddite? No. Tree lover? Yes. But I want to read my mysteries in paperback. So sue me). Maybe I’m being too doggedly a “form follows function”-ite, but it just makes sense that some subjects and disciplines benefit more from ebooks and some benefit more from print. Why can’t the proponents of e-for-all (“those people”) see this? (BTW, I’m actually ranting about this on behalf of some colleagues, who describe their library situation as: “they’re picking the library up, turning it on its side, and shaking out all the print books.” I’m fortunate in that the library in which I work finds merit in both formats.)
  2. Non-Library Library Consultants: What is it with libraries hiring library consultants who don’t know a blessed thing about libraries (not to be mistaken for library consultants who do know a thing [or two] about libraries, aka, they’ve actually worked in a library themselves)? Am I missing something here? Is there something special that people who’ve never worked in a library know about how to run them better than, say, someone who’s successfully run/administered a library? Is it something to do with what could just as easily be learned by a close reading of Cheaper by the Dozen?
  3. “Let’s Play at Libraries!”: Why are hollow, meretricious library burlesques hyped as ground-breaking and daringly innovative? (I leave it to you to pluck your favorite meretricious library-like project out of the headlines for this one). What happened to encouraging and enabling real library work that results in real products and services that benefit the majority, rather than an elite minority, of library patrons? And how many libraries do you know that have sufficient staff and funding for such “play projects”? This truly boggles my mind in our present economic circumstances.
  4. Library Tweeting: Except in selective circumstances (breaking news) what does Twitter do for me? For you? For the larger library scheme of things? Another free admission: I just don’t get tweeting in most library contexts, except when you’re in the middle of a truly lame meeting and you have to let the rest of the world know just how lame it is. Then again, I don’t have a whole lotta use for Twitter outside the library, except in such circumstances as those contextualized by David Carr and A. O. Scott for the recent Academy Awards. My ear is open like a greedy shark to hear good library uses of Twitter that I’ve overlooked….
  5. Bad News for Libraries: Sitting is the New Smoking: okay, so I was horrified (again) when I read about this TED talk by business writer Nilofer Merchant. Then I was intrigued. Now I’m wondering how long it will be before I’m invited to my first walking library meeting. The possibilities are many, varied, and potentially uproarious. But you just know that at some upcoming big library meeting, this is going to be brought up among a bunch of library directors, and they’re going to return to home base and start holding walking meetings. Or jogging meetings. Or hang-gliding meetings. You think I’m making this up, but just wait.
  6. Eulerian Video Magnification: somehow, some way, I feel sure we could use this technology for library assessment—I just haven’t figured out how, as yet. Any ideas?
  7. And finally: when do I get to drive the Scanabago? I’ve wanted that job since the first time I heard John Palfrey mention it in a talk about the DPLA, but I think I’m probably going to have to fight a lot of people for it.

These are some of the things that have been percolating for me lately. Thanks for letting me get it all off my chest. And do write me if you figure out an assessment application for that Eulerian Video Magnification.

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. Anonymous (yeah, the one from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/12/future-of-libraries/the-harvard-labrary-a-design-experiment-in-library-futures/) says:

    Points 2 & 3 are so spot-on! Tears of joy that you wrote this, tears of sadness that it had to be written.

    • Dear Anonymous,

      I’m sorry to bring about any tears of sadness — it’s just that the phenomena described in #2 and #3 bumfuzzle me completely and it sounds like they do you, too. I’m finding myself to be mystified at a dauntingly increasing rate by such actions in some libraries, as in: what were they thinking??!!!??? Perhaps there’s a mistaken assumption underlying my question…? At any rate, thanks for writing and for comfirming that my confusion is not unique.

      Best wishes,

    • Joneser says:

      Non-library consultants – the pits. Those who have forgotten, consult. But ex-librarian consultants aren’t that much better. They base everything on THEIR experience, which is often outdated. Worse, they have too many buddy contacts to milk. You know, the ones who went through library school together in the 70s . . .

  2. Two things.

    First, I would love to have an example of what you are talking about with #3, because I legitimately have no idea what you are referring to. I’m being serious: I’m very lost.

    Second, I’m not exactly sure whether you are talking about tweeting for libraries, librarians, or both. If librarians, I’ve appreciated live-tweeting at conferences, since you can’t go to every presentation (obviously) and the live-tweeters give you a chance to pull some major points from more presentations than you could possibly attend. I also dig Hack Library School’s weekly #libchat, though I can’t usually participate since I work at a reference desk Wednesday evenings. As for libraries, I’ve never actually run a library Twitter account, though when I ran one for my library school student group I used it to advertise events, retweet interesting articles I found, promote the activities the students in my program were doing, and more.

  3. Interesting comments. I certainly agree with you over the print V ebook situation. My feeling is that libraries are in the reading business, not the ‘book’ business, so we should use whatever works – if we’re in a position to do so of course. I’m astonished you’ve not heard of ‘dead tree’ before though; it’s been very common parlance in the UK for a decade or more.

    On the Twitter point – I’ll respectfully disagree with you here. I follow over 1100 UK librarians (as well as about that number of US and other nations librarians) and they are incredibly helpful. It’s how I keep up to date with what happens in the LIS world, who is doing what, details on conferences, library innovations, factual material and so on. I really would find it almost impossible to do my job without this stream of content. Furthermore, using news curation tools (such as Zite, Flipboard, Pulse, News.me, XYDO etc) that allow me to link in my Twitter credentials gives me yet another way of keeping on top of the twitter library news. I’ve also got lists of libraries that tweet, library associations, school librarians and so on, so it’s really easy to slice and dice the news that I see. I really would recommend giving it another go! :)

    Thanks for an interesting post.

  4. #1: Yes, a thousand times yes, and I think the message is getting through–the lead essay in the April Cites & Insights will be “The Year of Both?” suggesting that in 2013 we’re finally getting past the dichotomy. (I’ve been preaching “both” for more than a decade, but…) #4: My local public library uses Twitter effectively to highlight programs and the like, so it can be useful.

  5. Dear Carl, Phil, and Walt,

    Looks like I need to re-examine my thoughts about Twitter — you’ve all named good uses for it in a library context, and now I need to see how I can make it work for me.

    Thanks for writing! and for bringing these uses to my (and others’) attention,

  6. I was going to hold off commenting on the twitter thing – largely because I believe in an age of ubiquitous tools you have every right to choose what works for you.

    But I may as well tell you what I like about twitter.

    It’s like being on a listserv of everyone you think has something interesting to say (you choose who’s on the list) – every poster is succinct and the message is the subject line (so no wondering whether to open an email that says ‘Help needed’) – and you never have delete any messages or feel guilty about the ones you missed. There’s still room for interaction, retweets act like star ratings, and there are links to more indepth analysis if you’re interested. It’s efficient and fun.

    Being in a remote regional university it gives me a feeling of linkage to other professionals that I lost moving from a capital city.

    And that’s just for keeping up with what’s going on.

    I think it has utility in providing services too, but it’s early days, for example I use embedded tweet feeds in web pages to display system status issues to users (library staff and our clients). Because it’s the easiest and quickest and most easily accessible way to do it.

    Can only concur on the book ebook debate. I wonder if there opposing camps of dissent when some people started painting on canvas instead of walls. Content not container.

  7. I think the idea behind “play with it” at libraries comes out of very broken ideas about pedagogy. That teaching/learning is always boring. That you can trick people into learning by saying it’s fun *JAZZ HANDS*. And that unrestricted “play” is the best way to learn.

    For some people the chance to sit with a hunk of technology and “play” with it helps them learn. They’re not really playing so much as experimenting. By poking around they may understand the structure better. They quickly learn what doens’t work, and then it’s easier to figure out what does work.

    The big problem for me is that not everyone likes to do that. Many people learn better in an environment with more structure. Many people when confronted with a room of technology and told to play will go “but how and why?” Giving people some guidance, suggested things to try to create, etc makes that experience much better.

    I know how I learn best. I also know that what works for me, may not work for other people

  8. Maryse Breton says:

    I just read Cheryl’s post and I agree with all the positive comments about Twitter. Twitter is very useful to keep connected and to keep current in the field. For me, it’s replacing my list of RSS and my RSS reader as the central place to get more up-to-date information, facts and articles on other libraries and librarians.