#8: In Which I Blog About Blogs

In order to dip my toes into the great big sea of librarian bloggers, I decided to select and follow two distinctly different sorts of blogs.

The first, written by Jenica Rogers, the Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam, is called “Attempting Elegance” and is largely made up (based on the couple months that I read, at least) on her own personal experiences as Director and her musings on the profession. For the months of October and November, this has mostly consisted of a slew of posts about vendor negotiations and how completely ridiculous and unworkable they have become.

These postings were of interest to me because, though I initially wondered if publically airing one’s grievances over vendor negotiations was entirely professional, I quickly came to realize that a lot of what is being asked of libraries by publishers is pretty incredibly unreasonable – and that it is ABSOLUTELY professional to try to fix what is obviously a growing problem for information institutions of all types, not just academic libraries. To give some notion about the problems I’m talking about (and that this blog introduced me to), l’ll start with Rogers’ entry of October 30 – in which she discussed how her library has made the decision not to renew their agreement’s with SAGE because rather than getting the price that was agreed on last year (that year’s fee plus an already negotiated percentage increase) they received a quote 7% higher than they expected – for reasons that SAGE never really got around to explaining, except to say that new content (which the library hadn’t asked for) had been added, making the product more expensive. After relaying this experience, Rogers’ writes that she cannot continue saying yes to these sorts of deals or “doing more with less.”

Almost a month later (with several posts in between that revisited the vendor-library battles), Rogers added an epilogue to the SAGE saga by posting the suggestions that she and her staff had put together to send to SAGE. Included in these recommendations were that publishers stop making libraries buy 100 undesirable titles to get the 10 they want, and that they practice increased transparency about their pricing and simply offer a set price rather than forcing libraries to individually participate in extended, costly negotiations. The full list of recommendations can be found here.

The reason that these posts (and this blog in general) were so arresting to me is that I had frankly never realized what kinds of expectations publishers had for librarians or the kinds of negotiations and ridiculous agreements that collections’ development departments were having to sign on to. In other words, I didn’t realize that this issue existed at all – even though it is an extremely pressing one when the economy is struggling and budgets will probably continue to face the axe. As such, this blog was an amazing eye-opener – and an enjoyable, quick read thanks to Rogers’ casual (and passionate) writing style.

The second blog that I looked at is called “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” and is produced by a core team of librarians as well as other “guest” information professionals from around the world. It’s scope generally proved to be much larger, and the posts were more along the lines of full blown essays rather than the quirky and fun installments of “Attempting Elegance.” Stylistic differences aside, this second blog also tended to diverge significantly from the first in that it covered a much wider slew of issues, because it was written by many more people.

Some of the issues that were covered in the October and November posts of this blog were not especially new to me – the article on how libraries need to start changing to meet the changing nature of information and the more modern conception of libraries posted by Caro Pinto on November 20, for example, wasn’t exactly startling. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth talking about, however, and I had to appreciate the phrasing of some of the issues – as when the author writes of how a lot of traditional “physical” library processes have disappeared, eliminating unskilled library positions, while new digital processes have sprung up in their place, which employ fewer people but require greater expertise. This is a reassuring concept for a library science student, to be sure, and also just one more voice among many advocating for the importance of learning digital/computer based skills.

The most interesting and innovative article posted recently was that of October 9th by the founders of the Library as Incubator Project, Katie Behrens, Erinn Batykefer, and Laura Damon-Moore. The subject of this article was the concept of “Programming as Collection Development,” which argues that inviting local artists and craftspeople to host workshops and the like is not simply community outreach, but a form of collecting ,as the valuable information and skills that these experts exemplify isn’t to be found in books, but in their heads and the lessons they can teach. With that in mind, the article advocates for an increased cooperation between artists and librarians to be produce fun, creative programming to draw patrons from all walks of life and to provide them with a host of new skills and information that goes far beyond more typical library collecting.

As someone from a family of craftspeople (my sister is a jeweller and my father is professionally a tool-and-die maker and also a carver and furniture maker in his spare time), the respect for the skills of artistic and creative people that this article demonstrated was extremely refreshing. I am far too used to hearing tradesmen and craftspeople referred to with derision, as if the things that they know are not of equal merit to the knowledge of university-taught disciplines. To see creative people’s skills and information regarded as the valuable resource that they are, therefore, was a genuine delight – and it’s a concept that I have a hard time arguing with or seeing the downside to. Why not host painters so that they can teach their techniques, or film-makers or DJs? They can teach knowledge too, and likely knowledge that is going to appeal to a significant portion of the public – isn’t that what a library is all about?

By and large the posts of the “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” blog proved very hit or miss with me, but I suspect that this just means they are applicable to a broader audience or that they are, perhaps, touching on issues that I do not yet have an extensive enough background in LIS to appreciate. Regardless, I really can’t say enough good things about the innovative advocacy and programming ideas suggested in their first October post. I’m very glad to have read it.

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