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A Big Pre-ALA post

Many of us are heading to the big ALA conference in DC this week. It’s a big event, biggest in the world for library folk, although probably not as big as in the past due to so many budgetary woes. And that doesn’t matter. As many of us in the tribe who can get together every year face to face is just great. We have a lot to discuss. Is censorship different in a world where one company can ban authors and people off a device like the iPad? Are we truly free if writers are filtered or public PC’s choose what adults can view based on content? Are too many standards for e-books or articles hurting access? Is the digital divide widening or improving? Can we continue to evaluate quality and make colletion development decisions aligned with user needs and institutional goals? These and other huge issues are the talking points of our age.

Changing times require conversation. This isn’t just about transferring information and facts. It’s also about absorbing the changes and adapting. As my boss, Pat Sommers President of Gale, is fond of saying, “the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct because the climate changed. They went extinct because they didn’t adapt.”

Recently I had the great pleasure of attending the wonderful convocation ceremonies at the University of Alberta, where the theme was the celebration of a great library. It was awesome. One of the convocation speakers (after also receiving an honourary PhD) was James Neal of Columbia Univeristy Libraries and recently elected treasurer of ALA. I loved his speech. He framed something for me that I had never heard before. While he was much more eloquent than this report, he pointed out that there are two kinds of extinction. There is that extinction where a species disappears forever and none of their DNA and genome continues on. Forever dead and gone. Some of the dinosaurs were this type. The other kind of extinction was the kind were you would re-remerge as a new species or interbred with others, some dinosaurs might have become the birds, or some maybe became the large sea creatures. Recently we saw evidence that Neanderthal DNA is present in modern humans, perhaps indicating that they merely interbred and didn’t disappear forever but some of their line remains.

I found Jim’s metaphor for libraries very compelling. As Penniman said so many decades ago, “For libraries to remain what they are, they must change. If they don’t change they cannot remain what they are.”

So, at this ALA what will we discuss. The ecology of communities, research, learning, entertainment, and reading is changing and changing deeply. Our profession couldn’t be becoming more valuable if it tried! It’s not just technology but that’s helping. We are a social service profession so the impact of social networking online is clearly important. The social web is one of our greatest opportunities and is only a threat if we choose to frame it that way alone, or if too many of us ignore or fear it. The content seas are changing very fast for librarians and their suppliers. Very close to this ALA, the APA/Google US book court settlement along with the release of tens of thousands of publishers and their current front list books in Google Editions will change the landscape forever. The emerging mobile devices are changing more than communication but also behaviour and reading itself. And we’re seeing news and periodicals mutate before our very eyes. And so much more!

Our challenge as librarians is to remember what libraries really are and not just the shallow thinking about book towers and inventory and transactional search. We need to always dive deeper into these discussions. How do we focus on society, our users and members and the issues of the day to make a DIFFERENCE.

I can tell you that I still wake up EVERY DAY and says thanks that I have been a librarian. I cannot think of another profession where I would have been happier and can try to make important contributions to the world just like every one of my colleagues and co-workers.

If you’re still in DC on Tuesday June 29th at 11 am, please consider joining us in the Library Advocacy Day Rally in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill. Gale will be providing buses as usuall and as many t-shirts as we can so that we’re a sea of red (get it? red=READ). Libraries matter and matter even more in the 21st Century. They matter even more that any one of us and more than all of us collectively. We are the keepers of the past, animators of knowledge in the present by improving the quality of questions, and key builders of the knowledge economy future.

So for those of us at ALA, let’s spend time talking about what we are going to do to make a difference. Let’s advocate for ourselves and engage others in that advocacy. Let’s tell more good stories than bad. If we have to share sad and bad stories let’s not live there and dwell on them but use them as motivation for increasing our efforts to develop and grow and succeed and thrive. Let’s support eachother and be great friends. We need eachother now in our tribe. Let’s do the right thing and choose the best priorities. There are enough of us together to make a difference – as long as we stick together. As I often say, one part of libraries cannot look at another sector of libraries and say, ‘Your side of the boat is sinking’. Good luck. I’ll be there.

Keep the faith.


Posted on: June 21, 2010, 1:58 pm Category: Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Another fantastic post… Thanks so much for your sentiments.

    I won’t be at ALA in person, but I’ll be there in spirit.

  2. Good post as always, Stephen. And very true that we need to advocate for our profession. Often, though, that’s just a word or a battle cry and many of us don’t really understand how to do effectively. It’s more than simply saying “libraries are worthwhile.” There are specific yet simple things we all should be doing, no matter what level of library work we do.
    Those who want specifics can use the Frontline Advocacy Toolkit, part of Advocacy University, from ALA. It’s an initiative of current ALA president Camila Alire, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth a look!