Sunday, October 02, 2005

Libraries in the Chronicle

Lots of interesting stuff about libraries and librarians in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. One that I particularly like is by Elizabeth Breakstone - "Librarians Can Look Forward to an Exhilarating Future" (or, as it's slugged on the main page, "Enough With the Stereotypes.") It's a great piece, and if you don't subscribe to the Chron you can get the article from the "Scholars' Bank" at the University of Oregon, an interesting example of an institutional repository that makes faculty publications available in a free, open access model.

Breakstone thinks there's too much anxiety in the air about the future of libraries, and in communications with the general public that leads to either Michael Gorman-like dismissal of technological developments - or too much hype that devalues traditional formats. There's a middle ground:
"For new librarians like me, technology is second nature. We use instant messaging, record our lives and discuss our work in blogs, and include Google as one of the many tools in our arsenal. We're early adopters and explorers. At the same time, many of us are positioned squarely between generations that grew up with print resources and the generation growing up immersed in technology. We understand the utility of the traditional and the potency of the new."
But she also raises some very important concerns:
"I worry about the economics of scholarly communication -- the combination of plummeting library budgets and skyrocketing journal and database prices. I fear that leasing digital collections of material, rather than owning them, will leave librarians dependent on the long-term benevolence of corporations. I worry that the so-called graying of the profession isn't actually opening up new jobs but is creating empty positions in libraries with tight budgets looking for ways to cut back. I suspect the jobs that do exist will continue to pay poorly, forcing some librarians to enter the corporate world in search of a better living."
Tell you one thing - these are all important challenges, but with people like Elizabeth Breakstone entering the profession I'm confident we'll thrive, and so will those who depend on libraries.


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