I wrote this in 1999 but, sadly it still has some relevance today – unchanged.
Snappy Librarian Comebacks
I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore . . .
. . . a little fun with the web-challenged . . .
In January 1999, I sent out a request to the SLA Toronto Chapter discussion list asking members to share their best snappy responses to those colleagues who ask, “what we’re going to do now that everything’s on the web for free”.
They came up with a few examples of snappy responses to those information-challenged executives who are starry-eyed with Newbie webmania. You know the ones – they’re ready to fall for the well known Internet hoaxes and send greeting cards to Craig Shergold and want to warn you about that “Good Times” virus.
They used to be are referred to as elevator speeches, because that’s where you were when you finally thought of that snappy reply to the boss. Now they’re elevator speeches because that’s your best chance to speak directly to some executives but you only have the amount of time riding the elevator together to make your special point.
Snappy Librarian Comebacks – What to say when the Boss tells you that everything’s free on the Internet!
Those of you who know Dilbert will recognize the InDUHvidual. Of course all snappy answers won’t work in every situation, so handle with care, eh!
- InDUHvidual: “What do we need a library for now that everything’s free on the Web?”Snappy Librarian: “You get what you pay for!”
- InDUHvidual: “With everything free on the Web, I guess your budget will go down, eh?”Snappy Librarian: “I doubt it. The VP for content management at IBM estimated, at the 1999 SLA Winter Conference that about 1/100th of 1 per cent of all information is in electronic format. I sure wouldn’t bet my company on research done on that small a sample.”
- InDUHvidual: “There’s over 100,000,000 pages of information on the Web. What a lot! Surely that’s enough for any company’s research needs.”Snappy Librarian: “How much of that points to Joe’s 8 track tape collections or web sites of suicide cults that left earth on the Hale-Bopp comet. Just one of my database providers, Dialog, estimates that there are over 9,000 million pages of information in their service alone. I’ll bet the company on quality content any day. We’re looking for information that we can base important decisions on and shouldn’t be wasting time sorting through heaps of web compost. The web is an important tool but it’s not the whole toolbox.”
- InDUHvidual: “Let’s get browsers to every desktop so everyone can access all that web information, anywhere, anytime.”Snappy Librarian: “If we’re talking about developing an Intranet and choosing quality, organized information, then we need to talk! That strategy can deliver content and increase employee productivity. One study estimated that the average employee spent at least three hours per week just looking for information and NOT finding it. If we move the huge volume of web information of widely divergent quality to the desktop, I’d surely worry about negative productivity impacts. It’s an exciting project and we need to plan it well.”
- InDUHvidual: “I’m an accountant and we need to save money. I think we should put the web on every desktop and stop funding library acquisitions.”Snappy Librarian: “I agree and I’ll recommend to the CEO that we also put calculators and spreadsheet software on every desktop and stop funding this huge finance department. Clearly, if just putting the tools to the desktop can make people instantly know how to do research well, then I guess the same is true of calculators and spreadsheet software and the ability to meet the financial analysis needs of this company. My education and experience in information science is just as, if not more, valuable as your education in finance and accounting. We’re an information age company and we’d better start getting critical information skills out to our employees or our competitors will eat our lunch.”
- InDUHvidual: “So with everything available on the Web, we will not only save money by cutting the budget for the Library but the company will save on the overall bottom line!”Snappy Librarian: “Quite the opposite! The idea of saving money by using the Internet is a misconception. Web no-fee research via the Internet is a massive time sink. Even professionally trained information searchers can waste time unproductively on the web if they’re not careful! I would bet that the average employee could easily spend hundreds of dollars worth of company time Web-surfing to obtain information that would cost about just a few bucks from an organized information service.”
- InDUHvidual: “Let’s build a web page. We must have a web page. Everyone else is doing it, so we need to also. Once we’re online, people will flock to our page from around the world and we’ll double, maybe triple our sales.”Snappy Librarian: “We’re paying to keep our clients! Just building a homepage and waiting for visitors to go there is like printing a flyer and expecting people to drop by your office to pick one up. If you don’t put effort into properly announcing the homepage’s existence (and spamming is the wrong strategy), you’ll have spent time, energy and money on a homepage that no one even knows about. Unlike “Field of Dreams“, just because you build it does not mean that they will come. Homepages need to be handled as professionally as any planned marketing initiative. And, BTW, the same is true of an Intranet!”
- InDUHvidual: “There’s so much information on the Internet now! Pretty soon we (the world) will have everything on the web, right?”Snappy Librarian: “We won’t have everything on the Web any more than any physical library can have everything. No store or mall can have everything you want to buy. It’s the same with electronic resources. There will be lots of information – but not all of it will be useful, free or current. I mean who’s going to have time to put it all on the Internet? But, excitingly, we can prioritize our needs and get more of the way there than our competitors, though.”
- InDUHvidual: “When you said you were getting magazines on the web, I thought to myself ‘Wow!’ now all those great articles are free.”Snappy Librarian: “No – not any more than magazines are free at the newsstand. And finding the right article can be like searching for a diamond – you mine lots of rock before you find a diamond. A free gem or great article is rare indeed. Quality has a price tag attached, even though delivery may be via the web. And then, we know our research needs aren’t generally based on the sorts of magazines which can be financed through advertising-based web sites, anyway.”
- InDUHvidual: “Now that everyone has computers on their desks, they can search for their own information on the web and we won’t need professional searchers anymore.”Snappy Librarian: “Before I leave the company let me compile a guide that tells people which database to search in for which kinds of questions to ask and I’ll include web addresses too. Maybe I should do a course to try and transfer my many years of professional searching experience to everyone in a few hours. Of course, since the companies and the available databases and the web addresses are constantly changing, the guide would need to be updated pretty regularly. Hmmmm, looks like I’ll still have a job after all.”
- InDUHvidual: “Now that we’ve set up an intranet that gives everyone desktop access to the information that’s important to each of their jobs, what’s left for you to do?”Snappy Librarian: “Well, not much really, once I finish setting up the customized alert services so that each user gets exactly what they need to have delivered direct every day. Of course then I train them on how to use these services, and how to evaluate the sources of information so they’ll know what’s safe to rely on when making decisions that affect the company’s bottom line. And once they’re set up and know how to use all the info that’s delivered they should be fine . . . until a computer malfunctions or a server goes down, or a password expires, and then I might need to do some maintenance. By then there will be some new services that I’ll want to evaluate and introduce to them before I go.”
- InDUHvidual: “Now that everything’s free on the Internet, why should we pay to buy information?”Snappy Librarian: “Just because the Internet is “free” doesn’t mean that all the information that is available through an Internet connection is free. What makes you think that long-standing companies, like Dow Jones and Dialog, are suddenly giving away their information for free? What do you think they’re paying their employees with – virtual money? Someone still compiles and organizes all those statistics, and since they still want to get paid, those companies are sure as heck still charging us.”
OR, perhaps a snappier comeback: “What makes you think that good, reliable information is free? Can you imagine our company giving away our knowledge or products for free, and then not paying anyone? “Sorry, folks, no more money for paychecks. We wanted to jump on the Internet bandwagon, so now we’re giving everything away to our customers for free on the web!”
- InDUHvidual: “What do we need a library for now that everything’s free on the Web?”Snappy Librarian: “Would you like to bet your career on that? I’m betting mine that you’re wrong!”
- InDUHvidual: “What do we need a library for now that everything’s free on the Web?”Snappy Librarian: “Could you get me a profile and in-depth analysis of the <take your pick> industry? I’d like it on my desk this afternoon. I presume you’ll find it for free on the web in a nanosecond. Thanks.”
- InDUHvidual: With the web removing the need for librarians what are you going to do with your career?”Snappy Librarian: “There’s another way to look at this. Scientists know a little bit about statistics but KNOW they need a statistician for advanced work. I’m sure that most know that just because they know a little bit about finding information they don’t think they can find it all.”
- InDUHvidual: “Everything’s free on the web.”Snappy Librarian: “Yeah, but so is garbage. I’m not going to quit buying my food at the supermarket and just pick through the neighbour’s compost heap. Every once in while you find something of value at the side of the road – but it’s not a tenet to live or run our company by.”
- InDUHvidual: “Now you can borrow everything for free over the web from all these great university and research library collections like Harvard and CISTI!”Snappy Librarian: “Yeah – reminds of the time when someone suggested we borrow all of our library books from other libraries through inter-library loan! We can’t depend on the kindness of strangers. Harvard’s priorities are not ours and we need to focus on our research and corporate priorities. I’d hate to tell the CEO that we have to wait for some university student to return the critical book he needs today.”
- InDUHvidual: “Did you know the Library of Congress is on the Web? It has everything – what do we need your collection for?”Snappy Librarian: “”Honestly – the LC site has the bibliographic citations and I’ve been using it for decades. It doesn’t deliver or let you borrow the books . . .”
- InDUHvidual: “Everything’s free on the web!”Snappy Librarian: “Really! Show me?”
Of course, all of the snappy replies above are meant to be tongue-in-cheek – but, as usual, a small grain of truth underpins the sardonic. I suggest that delivering your line with a broad conspiratorial smile or sweetly innocent gaze without the least hint of sarcasm will go a long way to bring your InDUHviduals into the knowledge era.
When I first put out the call for stories I expected to get a few. Within days my e-mail was loaded! I was genuinely surprised at the depths of humour, despair, and outright anger (there was the odd anecdote that was unprintable!) at what is seemingly a universal special librarian experience of having some InDUHvidual misunderstand our role, profession and contributions. It can only serve to remind us that nothing substitutes for following the precepts of special librarianship underpinned by our core values:
- Strong relationships with our users – not just polite contact
- A messianic focus on service
- An understanding of our strategic purpose by our funders
- An endorsed strategic plan tied to the enterprise’s goals and objectives
- A strong and exciting vision of where we’re going and flexibility in getting there
- Recognized understanding of our organization and our industry or sector
- Excellence in both internal and external communication – marketing, sales, public relations and management
- Recognized strengths in combining technology in a balanced way with content and service
- Reinforcing our contributions for success to the executive team
- And maintaining a sense of humour – we need it.
So, there is no need to be as mad as Hell unless you need to get mad to find the energy to defend and move forward. The race is there for the tortoise to win and always has been as long as we stayed focused and follow the plan and our principles.
As a wise person once noted, the best revenge is living well . . . With contributions and a wink and smile from:
- Stephen Abram
- Beth Barnes
- Steven Bergson
- Dorothy Drew
- Gail Dykstra
- Linda Fair
- Margaret Gross
- Kathryn Kern
- Kathy Miller
- John Parr
Last updated: 30 April 1999