March 17, 2018

Feedback: Letters to LJ, October 1, 2013 Issue

“The…consolidation trend, Penguin Random House with nearly 250 imprints…has me wondering what will happen if one of these ‘too big to fail’ behemoths does fail…”

Too big to fail?

I write as William Stanek for technical works, William Robert Stanek for learning books and compilations, and Robert Stanek for everything else. Over the past 20-plus years as a writer, I’ve worked with all six of the Big Six publishers, having started out with Macmillan in 1994 (Jane Ciabattari, “Now There Are 5,” LJ 9/1/13, p. 26–29).

That there is no longer a Big Six but a Big Five is not surprising, with the continuing consolidation trend. Penguin Random House, with nearly 250 imprints and 15,000 titles a year, will be massive, and it has me wondering what will happen if one of these “too big to fail” behemoths does fail in these hard economic times. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

—William Robert Stanek, author, Olympia, WA

It must count for tenure

I would like to point out that Fister’s survey also found that 80 percent of faculty do feel that librarians are important and that the library budget should be retained (Barbara Fister, “Don’t Panic: Why Catastrophism Fails Libraries,” Peer to Peer Review). It is hardly surprising that scientists would feel that librarians/the library are no longer important, given that the original intent of the Internet was the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Someone does need to educate them on the costs of all of those databases they are using that are available remotely through the library, but that hardly calls for this level of breast beating.

Where is there evidence that this is a “trend”? More than two data points are needed to establish a trend. A trend is a persistent change over time in a given direction. What we have here is an increase at a single point. There is no way to predict that this increase will be maintained over time.

As for promoting open access, first, you must work on the university promotion and tenure committees. No academic researcher is going to support “freeing their own contributions to knowledge” if it doesn’t count toward tenure. That would be career suicide, and that an academic librarian doesn’t appear to understand that is troubling.

—Suzanne M. Stauffer, Assoc. Prof., Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

More of the same

Bill Ptacek’s “The Library as Catalyst for Civic Engagement” (LJ 9/1/13, p. 30–33) is interesting, but 2020 is only seven years away. I recognize that technological forces will continue to have an impact on what we are and what we do. But it seems to me that many people are forecasting more revolutionary change to happen much sooner than seems likely.

My midsize public library is only now discontinuing VHS tapes, more from lack of space than lack of patrons who want them. We teach occasional workshops on computers for absolute beginners—folks who can’t find the power switch—and we are addressing ebook concerns. The spectrum of users is wide and will remain wide through 2020 and beyond.

Books won’t go away, and only a portion of our base will ever use ebooks. Civic engagement is something I think we all try to do now, and only the specifics of what we do and how we do it will evolve.

I want to congratulate [King County Library System] on their volunteer program, by the way. Our Friends group has one monthly book sale to support our Museum Pass program and to contribute to Summer Reading. They simply decline to do anything more. We get occasional (generally underqualified) offers to volunteer, and we have two (at the moment) exceptional volunteers helping with local history projects. But certainly no corps of tutors. I’m jealous!

Maybe it’s easier to envision a fabulous future if you are on the cutting edge and have amazing human and financial resources. Me, I expect more of the same, with small changes and lots more frustrations as we desperately try to be all things to all people.

—Sherry Bailey, Adult Svcs./Reference Libn., Derry P.L., NH

Filtered book advice

I strongly doubt that libraries ever had a monopoly on book recommendations. The newspapers used to have book sections and offer book reviews (Eric Hellman, “Start-Ups Take Library Jobs,” LJ 9/1/13, p. 50ff.). Publishers Weekly used to be a fat magazine in the old days, with ads and reviews. Many publications offered book reviews of relevant titles to specialized audiences. Libraries offered the most filtered of book recommendations because we could get down to the level of the individual reader (e.g., your second grader who loves sports and animals). But many times, we were not channeling Nancy Pearl, not experts on every genre and every author.

I spent years recommending children’s books that I knew a little about and books I had reread several times—and the kids would pick a book to their own taste, regardless of my expertise or passion. The loss of browsing that comes with ebooks offers an opportunity to libraries to convey our real knowledge of books to the patron in a new environment that may be easier to access for us as well as the readers.

—K.G. Wilkins, New Orleans P.L.

This article was published in Library Journal's October 1, 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.