Lots of interesting stuff in this week’s Chron on technology and libraries. One piece in particular is a paranoid’s dream. James G. Neal, in “Information Anarchy or Information Utopia?” offers a long list of our current phobias. Now I’m worried because hardly any of this stuff frightens me.
An example: “The relationships between libraries and faculty members will be disruptive. We must more effectively integrate the library into the academic enterprise. Libraries must be professors’ partners, not their servants.” Wow. When I showed up for work twenty years ago as a member of the faculty nobody asked me where my maid’s uniform was. If that was disruptive, I missed it.
And this: “And the weak leadership-development efforts in academic libraries will produce chaotic administrative turnover. Where will we find the next generation of academic-library leaders?” Um, how about looking at the librarians we’re hiring? They’re not wearing maid’s uniforms either. In fact, most of the ones I know are expecting to lead, and excited about it. If leadership is reserved to administrators who have to be removed from libraries to receive special training, we’re in trouble. You know how they do it in the sciences? They mentor new scientists and they do so assuming they are all part of the same glorious enterprise. That’s leadership development with integrity.
Anxiety is one of the most potent levers available for making your agenda into a significant social issue. (If you want to know how it works, read Philip Jenkins or Joel Best. Fascinating stuff.) Librarians are as prone as anyone to sound the alarms in order to raise the profile of something they care about. But on most of the issues listed in this article I think our profession has a much better record than Neal suggests. It’s the Wrong Platform Syndrome. We are perennially afraid of being left behind, even when we’re ahead of the curve.
Maybe it’s just a simple misunderstanding. Anarchists are utopians. They believe people are capable of acting in the insterests of others. The majority of librarians and library workers I know fall into that camp (without being perceived as servants) and they don’t think change is disruptive; it’s simply the most rewarding part of the job.