The Rational Voice

So lately I’ve been noticing a lot of extreme declarative statements being made in regards to changes, advancements and dare I say it, INNOVATIONS in librarianship.  The idea for this post started when I read this article in Library Journal about a new program in Ann Arbor, Michigan which provides patrons of the library exceptional access to music.  In order to provide this service, and in order to “retake control of their distribution infrastructure if they ever want to escape the endless churn of platforms, devices, and rights management issues.” (I lifted that from the article but it’s a paraphrasing of Neiburger), we need to hire some people who can do that.  We need to get some IT people in the mix so we can support our own tools. Completely awesome. I love this idea.

However, the intro to this was “Reference is Dead”.

Ok, sure, yea, but dead like Elvis, where everyone’s going to be seeing this guy all over the place and playing his songs at weddings. Backing up this eulogy is OCLC’s perceptions report stating that 85% of people start their searches online.  This isn’t news, and this isn’t a death knell. The point of need has changed, but people’s frustrations and want of guidance and assistance has not in my opinion, and isn’t this what Neiburger’s saying? let’s get some IT people in the mix so we can start building tools to help our patrons where they need help.

So the real crux of what I’m trying to say is that we need to stop talking in such extremes, and start seriously facilitating rational discussions with clear minds about how to creatively deal with this change.  Saying something like “Reference is dead” may be catchy, and certainly got me to read the article, but it’s guaranteed to get people’s buns in a knot about the extremity of the statement. It’s also not what was great about that proposal. I was saying about this article in particular that I don’t know many dedicated reference librarians anymore (they may be out there), but from what I’ve seen and heard everyone’s juggling 6 balls and wearing 9 hats and pitching in where ever there is to pitch. Someone suggested that the proposal merely meant exchanging the reference hat for an IT style hat which brings me to another example of resistance.

At ACRL I heard frequent grumblings and sotto voce snarks made about IT professionals, iSchools, and “NEW” librarians. The comments weirdly implied some sort of “impurity” entering the profession, and that impurity was directly connected with technology. Statements like “not even a real librarian”, or “it’s not even a library school anymore” are not helping the resources get to the people who need them.

Perhaps I’m taking it personally as a recent Library School graduate, and perhaps there is a rational discourse happening (I’m sure there is, there are a lot of really exciting projects coming up here), but I think in order for us to achieve calm about the future of our profession is for us to stop making these extremist remarks and just get to doing. Yes, I’ve got a flower in my hair and birks on my feet but that doesn’t mean this is a bad idea. We can disagree, I’m not crazy, but we have to stop with this “us vs. them”, “old vs. new”, “analog v. digital” garbage and get together . . . . yea, yea, yea.