Recognize the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use.
Libraries are not the ivory towers of academia and privileged society which they once were. Today the library is an extension of the community, married to it, and nourished by it. In turn the library services the culture, providing much more than merely a means of accessing records. On the contrary today’s library serves a powerful social purpose: offering classes, serving as a grounds for events, disseminating tax and other legal forms, offering solutions and services for ESL patrons, and having become a place of recreation for swathes of the community. These are of course generalizations, but this characterization should not held as an essential treatise on the facets and services of the library but rather the range. Even the most urbane institutions have expanded their scope: while libraries were once limited more or less to their charter and scope of coverage, today they are manifest as active forces in the communities they reside within. This is none more true than in the case of public libraries, which constitute a significant factor in the education system, and not merely for the collections they contain.
For it is the society which grounds an institution. What good is a collection if not suited to the user? What good is the library if not visited? The librarian must be cognizant chiefly of the social dimensions surrounding his institution. It is not enough to simply develop a collection along intellectual bases; the patron’s race, religion, ethnicity, culture, economic stratum, information needs, resources, language and demands must be considered more so than theory and perfection. This entails an intimate familiarity gleamed by study, visitation, interaction and affiliation – that is to say a statistical evaluation of the patron’s preferences combined with a conscious effort to know them personally and entirely. Without this knowing the librarian is blind to the impact of policy, expansion and service orientation. What good is expanded digital access to journals if the patrons do not use the internet (as is highlighted below in evidence one)? What is the sense of expanding records on home improvement during an economic recession? Or investing in Shakespeare and fine English literature when one’s plant is increasingly accessed by ESL users? Affluent communities have access to new technology, while the impoverished suffer on last generation or in the complete absence of technology. These sort of scenarios naturally lend and critically influence collection development policy, but the latter is only one aspect of library services which are molded by social and cultural factors, among a great host.
Budget and economy also present as prominent considerations for the savvy librarian. Not only must the economic resources of the patron be considered at every development or policy change, but amid a climate of national uncertainty regarding library resources and government funding trends indicating limited new funds for libraries to work with, the librarian must be cognizant of the efficacy and worthiness of his investments. The latter often come at a price, and the librarian must be able to reallocate funds to accomplish essential services while also maintaining on budget, amidst cuts. The good librarian is not only an academic but a manager, who is skilled at auditing funds and thinking continually in terms of “cost benefit analysis.” He uses things like SWOT to square his institution’s future amid a climate of change, wherein services are often expected to compete with free, volunteer-based Web 2.0 alternatives, and at reduced funding. In a sense the savvy required to keep one’s institution afloat does not come from textbooks but rather a creative passion for problem solving arising from deep in the character. Often a librarian has to be willing to lobby the powers that be, no matter how embarrassing or frustrating it might be, in order to save the essence of an institution. Librarians must be diplomats with the support of financial numbers behind them, and must be willing to meet bottom lines without gutting their staff and the important projects which serve as the glue for our institutions. Economic considerations also factor specifically in archival and special collection institutions where issues of ownership and attribution arise. This is explored in competency I.
Yet the latter must not blind the librarian to the nature of contemporary library culture. For what is the essence of our patron’s culture in the contemporary age of library science? What is clear: it is not what it once was. Today the patron demands a suite of Web 2.0 luxuries which have risen to dominate their information lives. These services often clash with our standards of quality. It is the role of the librarian to provide intelligible services (That is to say: Web 2.0/Web 3.0 friendly, and with a passion for obliterating information silos) to the patron, whilst also serving as a guide to them, and ensuring they adhere to standards of information literacy. The classical example which springs to mind is the dubious Wikipedia. The patrons want to use it, and we fear for them. Hopefully our fear is generated from the fact that they might misuse it, and not from the convenient fallacy that it is an unworthy research tool. In this sense we must understand the new culture, the new internet culture of research, and embrace it, but keep our core and extend it to the patron in the form of information search literacy education. Today understanding the culture of library services is understanding a global internet culture, where collaboration, internet technology and communication seamlessly connect. Libraries must be embracing of this new information culture but also temper it with our expertise and wisdom.
Ultimately, to use a maligned and misunderstood piece of vernacular, a librarian has got to be “hip.” Much like a good educator of children and teens must be attuned to the pulse of his students, so much the librarian empathize with his patrons. He must be capable and willing to reach out to them in order to better build his collection, design his physical plant and plan his services. We must immerse ourselves in the worlds of our patrons, and walk in their shoes for a moment, so that we can best serve them. Failure to do so does a disservice not only to our profession but the human beings which rely on us for guidance and knowledge. We mustn’t be strangers.
My first piece of evidence is a paper I co-wrote with Gina Shafer on the problem of the digital divide as it applies to collection management and access. “Leave No Patron Behind” examines the continued prevalence of the digital divide, especially amongst elderly and poor, and highlights the fact that while we live in an apparently fluid technological world, a substantial minority of patrons do not have access to it. This latter fact plays critically in collection management, especially as developing digital collections is all the buzz in the contemporary age. This paper speaks to my understanding of the critical social issues which must be considered when managing collections. I was specifically responsible for pages 7-13, the abstract and formatting the paper and sources.
My second piece of evidence is a collection development study based around a theoretical purchase for San Jose Public Library. San Jose Public Library’s social and cultural facets are revealed by an examination of record access and turn over rates, as well as an appreciation of the increasing number of ESL patrons. The study suggests potential purchases based upon patron demand and economic dimensions imposed by the parameters of the study, simulating a limited budget of a local, overburdened public library. What is not included with the study are the access statistics which were made available during the time of the writing – but they painted a portrait of a poor, multi-cultural community with an interest in specific sorts of records representative of the demographic. These trends were recognized and synthesized into the purchase selections.
My third piece of evidence is another case study which concerns itself with two objectives: budget cuts to a theoretical library system while simultaneously being tasked with a growing community demographic: home schooled children. This study lends itself to my understanding of the economic factors which impact library services. Within the work I accomplish the objective of balancing a budget, expanding service and envisioning a system of volunteer intern pages to strengthen the personnel situation by generating an action plan.
My fourth and final piece of evidence, perhaps not surprisingly, is yet another case study. “A Case Study on Racism and Limited Resources” examines the social fabric which surround library institutions and how many of them are failing to adapt to the rapidly changing zeitgeist. Furthermore, the study places a magnifying glass on the issue of racism that is afflicting the notional library in question, and explores the social dimensions of librarian service in the form of a critique.
All in all these pieces of evidence are a sample of a body of coursework I have furnished which interpret and apply the crucial aspects of culture and economy in library science. These works point to a mastery of the subject, and an understanding of the importance of not only considering social and economic forces while acting as an information scientist.
Leave No Patron Behind (.PDF)
Boris, L. (2005). The Digital Divide and its Impact on the Rural Community. Rural Libraries, 25(2), 7-35. Retrieved from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database
Clarke, C., Yu, L., Yu, C., & Fu, L. (2011). How Far Can We Go in Ensuring Equality of Access to Public Library Services? The Re-Visitation of a Core Professional Value in the Context of Regional and Urban-Rural Inequalities in China. Libri, 61(1), 23-36. doi: 10.1515/libr.2011.003
Disher, W. (2007). Crash course in collection development. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Jacqueline K Eastman, & Rajesh Iyer. (2004). The elderly’s uses and attitudes towards the Internet. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 21(2/3), 208-220. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 658178931).
Rubin, R. E. (2004). Foundations of library and information science (2nd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Steven P. Martin, & John P. Robinson. (2007). The Income Digital Divide: Trends and Predictions for Levels of Internet Use. Social Problems, 54(1), 1-22. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1216527041).