internet

Freedom and #Diversity in #Libraries

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I read Marshall Breeding’s May 2017 “Library Systems Report 2017” way back when it was published in American Libraries magazine – but something struck me this morning while reading a completely unrelated article on politics/culture in the US…

systems-report

(accessed from American Libraries magazine, 27 July 2017)

That if, as Breeding states, in the internet age, libraries are moving toward increasingly centralized, for-profit “solutions” for their tools and services – from technical services, authority syncing, reference chat tools and vendors for research materials of all formats (and I think he is correct), then libraries are moving away from their democratic ideals towards arrangements with a more fascist bent.

This trend in libraries of course simply reflects the state of culture at large that works by default with the internet.

But the end result, as I see it, is at least twofold:

  1. That the number of librarians and interested connected professionals are able to engage less and less in the design and implementation of those technologies across almost every front- This not only affects those people’s ability to engage in deep-dive lifelong learning, but it also means that “design local” as a guiding metaphor is being thrown out the window. Even as libraries’ staff talk about how much they like to serve their patrons/community/users (whatever each library wants to call its local constituents, it is actually less able over time to to design solutions built specifically for those very people.
  2.  That one major result of the above trend as partially commented upon in bullet # 1 is a significant decline in diversity – this even as diversity & inclusion committees and working groups are being formed across libraryland in the United States. We talk about diversity and intellectual freedom in libraries. But we define those ideas in increasingly narrow terms if we do not take into consideration the elaborate tools that might be built if local libraries maintained their own servers, ILSs, and well defined privacy policies that could be much better managed if local libraries (of all types) maintained a higher level of control over their own systems.

The result of this trend migrates thinking & tinkering away from local decision making, policies, technological innovation towards a totalitarian model wherein diversity is discouraged and intellectual freedom is hindered across several important fronts – especially meaningful fronts in the information age.

A few thoughts…

Thank you for reading.

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Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533

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One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.

Networked and Networking – 2 Questions

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Wikipedia defines Business Networking as, “a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.” Of course, there are all kinds of other networked human beings who use a similar approach to accomplish goals or tasks that may not on the surface be about business. But Wikipedia seems to have no such entry.  The Riley Guide defines Networking in its own way – which has more to do with humans finding ways to interact with other human beings.
My life as a library worker, volunteer and intern with plans for a lifetime of work in libraries is one that will surely require more and more networking in order to learn new techniques and best practices, gather information about potential projects and to increase the odds of finding the perfect next job necessary to accompany each new stage of my professional development and skill set. There are lots of suggestions as to what tools produce the best results in this area. Within library-dom, there are plenty who say that staying abreast of events and discussions within professional associations produces quality results. I am of course referring to associations such as American Library Association, Society of American Archivists, and Special Libraries of America among others.
I am very interested in reactions – which leads me to my first question: Does anyone have real stories (hopefully about library work) to share that show examples of how networking has grown your professional persona and added to potential (past occurrences or planned) for new jobs or projects? Any productive response that encourages dialogue on this topic is appreciated and can be added as a comment in this post.
There is, however, a second interesting aspect to Networking – that of connected computers. Two years ago, David Fincher directed the very popular and slightly controversial film, The Social Network. Hard to believe that it has already been two years. Since then, obviously, Facebook has entered a new phase of its business model, that of increasing its levels of advertising within its popular platform and floating itself onto the Stock Market with its IPO. But one of the constant mantras spouted by the character named Mark Zuckerberg in the film is that he really wants to connect people. But what happens as the film progresses? Well, most of the groups of people, even supposedly good friends, fragment as the plot moves toward the ending credits. Slightly ironic, but definitely amusing and worthy of note at least for those interested in film. One can’t say this is inevitable. But one can say that the first thing actually connected via Facebook is computers. And in so being connected (networked), Facebook, as only one such platform, has become widely used for promotion, company blogs and updates from all kinds of institutions (including libraries). This shows me there is still a hierarchical aspect to this technology – social media and networking platforms both – which may prove a limitation to internet based networking and knowledge dissemination as a whole.
This brings me to my second question: Does anyone have real examples (hopefully about library work) they can share on how networked computer or internet-based networking tools specifically have grown your professional persona and added to potential (past occurrences or planned) for new jobs or projects? And, again, Any productive response that encourages dialogue on this topic is appreciated and can be added as a comment in this post. 

Thank you.