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Emerging Technology: Damn the Recession!

29 Sep

recessionI decided to use my freedom of choice to see what articles I’d find on my own. The title “Damn the Recession, Full Speed Ahead” by Rush Miller, University of Pittsburgh, had power, which grabbed me. Must we really resort to begging to get what we need for our users? That seems to be the attitude of too many long time librarians I’ve seen. Throughout the article, Miller is bold and dynamic, refreshingly so.

Miller describes his early career as an academic librarian when administrators haled the library as the “heart of the university” in the 1970s and 80s. However he points out that all though faculty and administrators did praise and value the libraries, and while the libraries had healthier budgets than they do now, they actually never got the cut of the budget that they should have gotten (which he contends was 5% rather than the average 2.75% of 1977). Later libraries received more as technologies developed, but proportionately they’ve gotten a smaller allocation(1.5% today).

As libraries face a paradigm shift and feel the need to champion their relevancy like never before Miller offers a bold, well argued call to action. I was struck by his use of a quote by Duane Webster, “Promoting past success or defending status quo is a recipe of disaster.” In fact Miller goes further saying:

Claiming value is not nearly enough. While certainly libraries in some form will survive as long as universities do, the real issue and challenge is to keep libraries relevant to the learning and researching enterprise. The danger is that without major transformational change libraries will be come less and less relevant. . . change or progress in academic libraries cannot continue to be incremental, but must become transformative. We can no longer expect to have “new” services and roles funded with increase to our budgets or even external funding from grants, but we must reinvent ourselves and create the resources essential to our new mission from within those resources available to us in the past.

I did cringe when Miller discusses how libraries need to think like businesses. I have a problem with idealizing business as if businesses didn’t fail, didn’t waste lots of money, didn’t endanger people. He described how by outsourcing cataloging his library went from a staff of 70 to one of 29. While I don’t plan on working in cataloging, such cuts send chills through my spine. I do want to have a career in this shrinking field. Whole departmental libraries have closed as did their special collection of colonial American documents. While I support digitizing historical artifacts, I hope there’s still some way for researchers and history buffs to have access to actual rare books and historic documents. (One promising note was that there are more jobs in digital curation.) University of Pittsburgh has undertaken over a 100 digitization projects and are pioneering digital publishing, which is a trend that’s sure to be true of other sizable libraries. One project I perused was their exhaustive photo collection of every inch of Chartres Cathedral.Another exciting change is their on-demand book printing machine and their journal publishing services that is open to scholars and writers around the world.

He asserts that the reduction in reference queries, virtual and in person is due to a faster Google-like search system, but he offered no quantitative or qualitative back up.

torpedoThe university renovated the library’s coffee shop. Now it has big screen TVs showing the news and they hold lunchtime concerts on Fridays. Popular books are on hand and available for patrons to take out. It’s the most popular cafe on campus.

Rush believes that ebooks will push out print books faster than people think. Here I have my doubts. I use both formats and prefer paper books. I see both used on trains and around town. It’s easy to give books as gifts and an ebook certificate, just isn’t the same. I wonder about the environmental impact of mining rare earth metals, the conditions of factory workers making electronics (though I can’t or don’t go electronics-free) and the consumption of energy for all our devices.

Bold and unflinching, Miller is very comfortable with change and states that libraries must have “articulate leadership with vision and a proclivity to change as a way of life. Effective library management today is change management; effective leadership is visionary leadership.” On the one hand, I’m encouraged by his spirit, but on the other, I don’t want too much change too fast. Still learning how one academic librarian is leading change made for a lively read.

Reference

Miller, R. (2012). Damn the Recession, Full Speed Ahead. Journal of Library Administration, 52(1), 3-17.

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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Library and Information Science

 

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