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Mon, 27 September 2004 13:00:00 GMT
A letter to a dear friend who just got the news that his liver might need replacing
Dear Mr. Library,
Let me first of all say that I respect you very much and I've watched your work for years with great interest and enthusiasm. I've always held the library as the pinnacle of culture, the Persistant Identifier for "knowledge", I feel honoured that I've had the chance to work with you for the last little bit.
Over the last little bit I've had a growing concern, a nagging rash on my patient elbows, causing me to re-evaluate the value of the services you're giving. I'm of course not referring to the underlying principle of giving access to books and information about them to the wide public, although I do brush upon it. I don't mean the basic concept of free information, although I'm brushing on that too. I'm not really talking about the cultural implications of a sivilized society losing its foothold on those titles ... oh, hang on, I am talking about that.
Culture is important, in the meaning of "what we are and what we're about is really what we are and what we're about", regardless of what that's all about. It's called "culture." Throughout history, we've had many cultures, and we call it "history." Many cultures have failed, and we claim to learn from those mistakes, just as we think our current culture must be winning, because it hasn't failed yet and so it must be good.
I've had many thoughts on current affairs and how its evolving, shaping our people and - waaaait for it! - our culture, and it is because "our culture" is not anyones culture anymore; it is a ever assimilating entity that transponds the world on so many levels. Some try to be specific, saying "western culture", which really means "the way they do it", which means nothing at all, really. Some try even harder to specify what culture they're thinking of, saying "modern western culture of social democratic Norway", for instance, knowing that there are subcultures and twists and turns and nothing at all that can be pinpointed to that title apart from vague notions of stuff that might be some demographic statistics of a local and highly specialized part of Oslo, the capital. That is hence the problem; "culture" is a cloudy word, meaning nothing specific. How can we talk about cultural important issues when we're all talking about fluffy clouds?
I'd say that books are important, even in the age of the Internet. Some people think the book is the pinnacle of man, the very thing that made everything else excel. They dub this a cultural paradigm shift, but is it really? Is the book a shift in any culture, at least any specific culture? or is it the very notion of development that happens in all layers of human adventures? Again, we're drawn towards the definition of the word "culture" to see if anything can discussed and talked about with that word;
Main Entry: 1cul·ture, Pronunciation: 'k&l-ch&r, Function: noun
1 a: the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends upon the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group
2 a: the act or process of growing living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media b: a product of cultivation in nutrient media cul·tur·al /'k&lch(-&)-r&l/ adjective cul·tur·al·ly /-r&-lE/ adverb
Only 1 is important to what I'm talking about, and again we're faced with another buzzword; "pattern", which seems to be the word that tries to explain everything these days. In the fluffy speak of culture, we're trying to talk about certain patterns of "thought, speech, action, and artifacts" and patterns of "customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social groups". Patterns, just like a checkered board.
Dear Mr. Library, you're a result of a given pattern, and that pattern is about to change. In the good old days, people were willing to spend time and effort in trying to find the information they sought, but that pattern is changing, as information wants to be free and fast and now! In the good old days, people trusted given institutions and were willing to pay for that trust, but that pattern is changing, as trust seems to be mistaken for habit and loyalty. In the good old days, people saw the library as a place to seek information because librarians were really good at sifting through collections, but that pattern is changing, because computers are better at sorting, indexing and finding keywords and linking all of these results with other resultsets to create quite superiour results.
In other words, Mr. Library, you've got to change to keep up with the times, otherwise you'll be presenting us with services we don't need, at a rather high cost. Not only would the initial services be deemed worthless and silly, but the real danger comes when politics become aware of the stupid way of using the money to the point of not giving you that money anymore. In politics, only one thing is the credo; give the users what they want. Period. Never give them what we think they need. Please, mr. Library, listen to me; you've got to change before it is too late! Most people in the library world understand the value of metadata, MARC records and the want and need to give patrons the best service possible, but even if the underlying basic ideas are still intact, the medium and the service they're given through has changed quite dramatically, and unless you snap out of your conservative ways (pardon the pun), you will get conserved in the annals of cultures everywhere as an interesting cultural phenomenon now gone forever. You must embrace new technology and new patterns of social behaviour in order to have a right to live.
I really like you, Mr. Library, but you must not grow old and conservative and cautious. You must be on-edge, leap on new ideas, be brave and innovative, sinking your teeth of knowledge into the neck of new generations before TV gets them, like a Dracula giving them the kool-aid bug in their blood for proper guidance and that Draconian style of innovation libraries were famous for. (I mean, for crying out loud, stop using that abomination called Z39.50 and think it is a great innovation coming out of the library world; It is abysmal!) I know funding is a problem, mostly because politicians don't understand what you do and the general people only understand how a school stores books in the library to avoid having to buy them again the next year, but without the innovation and especially the passion for solving these problems in new exciting ways, there will be no more funding. A shoestring budget can only walk so far, if not only up to the annals for final submission as something that "seemed like a good thing at the time" but failed shortly after Alexandria burnt down. I mean, we don't really have to juxtapose this any further. Our culture (whatever that might be) is changing, and the library must too. Quickly. Now. With a passion!
Alexander JohannesenPermalink (Mon, 27 September 2004 13:00:00 GMT)| Comments (0) | Opinions