Questioning Paradigms

Yesterday Forbes published the first of a proposed two-part examination of the Big-6 book publisher/library contretemps around digital book files as collection offerings. You can (and definitely should) read Part I, which Infopeople tweeted much earlier today and which is also available on our Facebook page (gentle reminders that if you aren’t subscribed to @infotweets on Twitter and haven’t “friended” us on Facebook, you may be missing a lot of other valuable library information too–easily corrected by, well, subscribing to both).

The examination of arguments coming from the publishing and library sides is reasonably balanced and welcome as a summation from someone who sits directly in neither camp. As always, the accruing comments are also important, especially Jamie LaRue‘s attempt to help the author understand that public libraries are not about brick and mortar repositories but about information evaluation and provision.

It wasn’t so long ago that libraries and librarians swallowed the popular assumption that “books are our brands,” but it is definitely past time to reconsider echoing that paradigm.

A library director with whom I frequently discuss and debate library paradigm shifts required to align library services with community needs, ran one up the flag pole several weeks ago that can be given due and thoughtful mulling by us all: the public library’s provision of collections is an indirect service.

That’s right: if we consider what we provide, can provide, should provide, and then  divide all these possibilities and realities into direct and indirect methods for serving our communities, she’s proposing that merely having and lending collections, while certainly important, isn’t a direct way of evaluating and serving wanted and needed information. Instead, her paradigm would have it, our direct services include our active engagements:

  • evaluating what we select for those collections
  • reference and readers’ advisory assistance (whether or not collection dependent)
  • reading aloud and other programming we provide based on those collections
  • supporting adult and family literacy activities through library site use, tutor training, and taking parts of the collection to communities such as preschools, job fairs and farmers markets
  • teaching community members how to use technology to conduct the business they need to improve or maintain their daily lives, including completing online forms, homework assignments and health concerns

Among our indirect services, we provide machinery (lots!) and hopefully adequate maintenance of same, shelter from actual storms (if we happen to be open) and a string of  accommodations such as bathrooms and change for parking meters. None of these indirect services is unimportant, “extra,” or, for that matter, glamorous.

Is the collection really any different–when viewed by itself–except that we can glamorize it? It’s available for use and its continued use is possible because we maintain it. Are our circulation rules–which should focus on keeping the collection flowing among potential users–and our weeding and balancing of views the direct services because these are where our “library-ness,” our special and different identity that separates us from bookstores and friends’ shelves when it comes to matters of collection, lies?

Read the Forbes piece. Read the comments. Question your paradigms.