Librarians: Monday’s Question

“The real debate, and it is sure to be vicious, will come from within our own ranks. It will be from the annoyed librarians of the world who seeks the status quo and see their mission as recorded knowledge, the collection of artifacts, and the maintenance of organizations labeled libraries.” Lankes believes that change-averse “bibliofundamentalists” can be “convinced and shown the way,” but also that there comes a point when “the debate must end,” and “we will have to leave them behind.” This is a hugely important issue I can almost promise you you will be dealing with after graduating and getting a job. What will you do when, bright, bubbly and full of ideas and ideals, you are faced with the staunch ‘old guard,’ unwilling to change or entertain new approaches to things? Will you try to convince them? Make the changes seem innocuous? Fight them? Let them have their way? Wait for them to retire? Or just walk away and leave them behind?

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  • Pamela Espinosa de los Montero

    When I read this quote, it jumped out at me.  I had to run upstairs and make my fiance read it.  We sat on the floor and talked about it for about 20 minutes.  We compared it to the cut throat attitude typical of MBA students or a for-profit industry.  We laughed and hoped that new librarians would take on MBA students in the future. 

    We thought about what leaving behind people may mean to a profession that is otherwise friendly and respected for its value in cooperation.  But the library is changing, and I am not sure what I may do if I run into a bibliofundmentalist.  I think that confronting rapid change in something you invested your life in may be very difficult.  So I hope that I am first compassionate, and can make the transition with them smoother, or at least show respect for the work and skills they have (even if their way of doing things is changing).This is very idealistic, but ultimately what good can come of leaving librarians behind.  The bibliofundamentalist, in my opinion, represent a population in our community that is confronting a change in an important public service.  If I can make peace with them….maybe I can also deal with a diverse community with different ideas of what the library should be.

  • Darren J. Glenn

    I think the dichotomy that Dave sets up in this passage is a bit flippant and unfair.  Yes there are the bibliofundamentalists; and I sure as hell know there are the innovators ALL about the latest, greatest, newest, now and the relationship between librarians and their patrons.  But I’d like to interrogate the polarity he implies in this brewing war.  Clearly there is a struggle we are all going to face regarding this dynamic.  But perhaps there are a range of “sides.”  (Mind you, I’m speaking from an epistemic location of relatively little experience in these politics)!

  • Kathleen McClure

    Darren, Pam – My first impulse is to, like you, decry the seemingly callous suggestion to “leave them behind.” I feel that giving up on someone – patron or coworker – is tantamount to giving up on yourself and your mission as a librarian. Like you said, Darren, the breakdown of communication  can create an atmosphere of polarity, like two-party politics. But remember, this line comes only after several paragraphs exhorting us to do just as you say, Pam, seek or make a bridge of understanding. “The voices of the bibliofundamentalists must not be silenced or dismissed. We must not look on them as enemies. Instead we must thank them for their service and ask them why.” We ask them to consider the purpose behind what we do. Perhaps we should consider why they react negatively to change. Those who are more risk-averse will be uncomfortable, even fearful, of something new, unfamiliar and uncertain. They may think that they will be rendered obsolete, or just not want to learn a new way of doing things. After all, change can be a lot of work. But understanding the reasons behind their reticence can make it easier to make that bridge and bring them along. “Leave them behind,” is, I believe, a regretful last-choice scenario that may have to play out in the realities of the professional world, but always a regretful last-choice.

  • Carla Ehrenreich

    I think the best possible scenario is to be hired into a position because one is bubbly and full of new ideas with the explicit mandate to change.  That way you have buy-in at at least one level.  Face it we’re not going to be in the position to make the changes happen without buy-in from above so best to make sure you have it from the start and then you can work on getting buy-in from peers.  OR ditch the public system all together and join/create a consultancy that gets paid to come in from outside and make changes.  You will still have to convince the librarians on the floor to buy-in but you come in with a great deal more authority.