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26 July 2007



Creation or Evolution? Surely we don't need to see things in such stark terms. I think that's clear from your last sentence: Survival of the fittest...evolve to survive.

Survival is not the only means of evolving. You implicitly endorse a market-oriented approach to libraries, and you implicitly support that approach as the only means of survival.

Librarians -- as professionals -- have a duty of stewardship to their profession as a whole. The ideal of stewardship suggests that librarians decide what a library should be (rather than markets, or measurable successes).

What's needed is a discussion of (1) the things that make a library a good library, and (2) the range of diversity needed within the world of libraries. It seems to me that the comment you quote is a reasonable (if inarticulate) contribution to that discussion.

I find the idea of a library as a bank of access points to the internet as absurd as calling an institutionally subsidised bookstore a library -- no matter how successful either idea is.


As much as I agree with Will that librarians have a duty of stewardship to their profession as a whole, and that using the stark realities of natural selection as vehicle to elucidate the current status of libraries as a whole is rather dramatic, I believe we'll be in serious trouble if we continue to cry for ontological discussions of "what is a good library?"

Libraries are living organisms; we shouldn't ascribe qualities like "good" and "bad" to them, the same way we shouldn't delegate such titles to children. (which is a debate that can and will be precipitated by value systems and beliefs, fueled by emotionalism and religiosity, so I'll avoid that plank) If we want meaningful discussions, we should talk about what will make our libraries grow. Cheesy? Of course. I believe it is much more important to always keep an eye on the bottom line--our budgets, our patrons--so we should think along the lines of productivity. Does doing x foster productivity (outcomes prove x increases patron base, usage) or does it hinder production? The fact of the matter is that we've hung onto expediency since the invention of Gutenberg Press. Faster has meant better ever since. Yet libraries are still everywhere--regardless of form or function or speed--and the ones that have survived are the ones that continue to grow.

Yet for all of the fun we can make out of this exercise, by the time librarians as a collective body decide on what is "good" or "bad" or "productive" or "too Amazonish,"
another industry, another branch of knowledge, another zeitgeist will find its way to merge with library science, changing our definition once again. What will work well for my library--located in an inner-city, charity care hospital affiliated with a school that claims the hospital's residents as students but doesn't cater to their information needs--will probably not be the same for a well-funded public library in a (more desirable) location. To me, this is the brilliance of library science, of libraries.

I'm not saying that the future of libraries is in the hands of society, and we'll always be malleable pushovers because of it. Far from that...we're change agents, "high-tech information sleuths," and academicians. We're publishers, researchers, and go-to people when you need an article stapled. (Not my favorite function, but facts are facts) If we want our libraries to succeed, we will have to spend more time acting. The discourse should be saved for our literature, our listservs, and great blogs like this one.


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