Librarians & online content

I read something online recently that made my heart beat faster, and I felt that I had to get this out of my system. There’s a popular idea that because things can (and increasingly do) exist electronically, that the need for classification (and in a way, librarians) are not required or are becoming unnecessary. Please, let me convince you that this is absolutely not the case…

  • Digitization and digital books: People assume that with the advent of e-Publishing and scanning technology that libraries are going to digitize all of the print materials in the library. This is not the case, and would be illegal under copyright laws. Libraries do not own the rights to digitize and make published materials available online without consent of the publisher and sometimes the author(s), or other owners of the materials. There ARE many books that have been digitized because of their age, public domain, etc., but libraries are not, and I doubt will ever be, fully digitizing their collections.
  • Misconception that electronic materials don’t need to be organized: Call numbers, classification systems (e.g. Dewy Decimal, Library of Congress, etc.), shelves, and signage are long-held systems to help people find print items in a library. The equivalent tools exist for electronic materials: hyperlinks and URLs, controlled subject vocabularies, tags and keywords, images, book covers, etc. These fields are in place to help people find materials in the easiest way possible. Just like their print counterparts, electronic stuff has its own access points, unique to its medium. Digital books have a classification and cataloguing system of their own, and they’re usually established by librarians.
  • Librarians, search tools and the Internet: I heard there was a scene on Parks and Recreation where Amy Poehler’s character said to the librarian something about being unnecessary or replaced because of the Internet. I can’t stand this argument… It’s obviously a cinch to find basic information on Google, but not everything is indexed on search engines like Google. Information isn’t always free, and Libraries have the resources to pay to have them available for you through subscriptions. If you’re only looking for basic details about something, clearly a librarian isn’t required. If you’re looking for something substantial or specific… you might have to scroll through a shitload of Google results if you don’t know what you’re doing. The Internet holds an incomprehensible amount of information. While having made it quicker to find lots of cool stuff, it has also been made more challenging to find authoritative or quality information. Librarians and other information professionals are essential in organizing, processing and helping to make sense of it.
  • Librarians as “gatekeepers”, not custodians of information:Librarians aren’t threatened by the Internet, or think that our jobs are in danger because of it. We use the Internet to make finding stuff easier, and we help people to use the Internet to make their lives and work easier. Heck, it makes our jobs easier too.
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2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As a new young professional (not a yuppie, I promise) I have big dreams of attending conferences, and budding anxieties of presenting at them. I love to talk about libraries with library-people. It is an actual interest and favourite pastime of mine, and I wish I had MORE librarians as close friends. I’ve attended a couple conferences in the past and will certainly branch out to attend others, but as a result of their (often) costly admission and far or remote locations, sometimes I simply just can’t justify it.

I recently received word of a library convention called the “National Diversity in Libraries Conference” (NDLC) held in Princeton, New Jersey from July 14-16. The 2010 theme of the NDLC is “From Groundwork to Action.” The fundamental principle of this conference speaks loudly to me owing to my social beliefs, lifestyle as a minority, and my interests in multiculturalism, accessibility, and cultural pluralism. I visited the homepage for the conference and read about some of the sessions and speakers. The range of topics is unanticipated and impressive, and I’ve become increasingly interested in getting to Princeton in mid-July. Here are some of my favourite session titles:

  • Speaking up: Providing staff training and tools for dealing with diversity issues on the spotLinda Klimczyk, Jeff Knapp, Loanne Snavely
  • Much ado about Tintin? User services, collections, and racially offensive materials in librariesAngela Maycock, Loida Garcia-Febo, Julius Jefferson
  • Differently diverse: moving libraries beyond ADA compliance to full inclusion for allMs. Clayton A. Copeland, Dr. Linda Lucas Walling, Ms. Peggy Kaney, Mr. Avery Olmstead

There are also others that address literacy and youth, equal opportunities, libraries as safe places, and sensitivity training. One topic that I would like to have seen represented more is the impact that legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will have on both public and private libraries. Granted, the NDLC is an American conference, I’m sure similar legislation has passed South of the border that will affect accessibility planning for public spaces. It’s an interesting project to consider in terms of library project management and inclusiveness. (Perhaps I should have written a proposal, eh??). The third title listed above has to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act and this could touch on my idea, but from the abstract seems more about diverse aspects of access.

You might glean from the titles I’ve highlighted that my interests surround inclusion, accessibility, and eliminating heteronormativity and hateful language, both in literature and spoken by persons. These are important issues that continue to require the attention of all levels of library staff… and unfortunately they don’t exist in a library-vacuum (made that up) but persist in many occupations and public services. In my current workplace I’m happy to say that I hear a great deal of inclusive language (e.g. “my Partner and I…”), and I think this kind of behaviour generates a culture of acceptance and kindness.

I hope that everyone who attends the 2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference has the best time and learns heaps from each other. I’m jealous that I can’t be there, but hopefully I’ll attend the next one (it’s biennial), in 2012!