Friday, August 14, 2009

Perplexed Librarian

Five years ago I wrote a series of short articles submitted to Publib asking a series of questions trying to gain a better understanding of the state and direction of the Library world. Some of the logistical and system information is dated. My email has changed. However, my questions are still valid and I'm still seeking answers to these questions. The following is the first post as it appeared. GFW

July 29, 2004

I am perplexed and need help understanding what is happening. Are the duties and responsibilities of the Public Librarian changing? Are there systems implementing changes in how professionals and para-professionals do their jobs?

I have worked for over 15 years at a Large Public Library system in Sacramento California. Our Management is implementing a series of changes, without explaining those changes, that have many of my colleagues and me concerned. It appears we are moving away from a not-for-profit, patron-service oriented library to a for-profit, customer-product retail-outlet model. Actually, the evidence suggests the library is becoming a not-for-profit, customer-product based retail outlet, in effect moving away from a patron-service oriented library without gaining anything tangible. In essence, Management wants to turn the public library into a large, chain bookstore.

There has been a progression of events implemented and suggested which lend credence to the above statements. I will give you the first of these implemented changes and follow at a later time with the others. Our collection development policy (how titles are selected for each of the branches and the main library) has been radically changed. Previously, people at each branch selected for their branch and community. The main library assigned selection responsibilities to subject specialists who enhanced and maintained its collection. In this way the collections grew according to the subjective experiences of those who worked with the collection and the people who used the collection. (I regularly spoke with the people who used the collection I was responsible for gaining a serious understanding of what they wanted and needed.)

Earlier this year, the system shifted to a cluster of small selection teams comprising professionals and para-professional library workers. These teams select titles for all the branches and the main library according to loosely defined and vague community profiles. Someone who works at a small branch, in a distant community, is selecting materials for large community sized branches and the main library. Likewise, people at the large main library are selecting materials for the small, outlying branches. People who do not know the Library, the collection of the Library, or the people who use the Library are selecting materials for the Library. We are moving toward centralized buying, exactly like that used in large, retail chain book stores.

Is this movement happening in other Library systems? Is this a good way for Libraries to operate? Do I not understand the dynamic of how Libraries are going to have to operate because of budget constraints and the effects of the Internet? Are there questions I am not considering?

Gerald F. Ward

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