Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Uninformed? Uneducated?

I’ve been at the ALA Conference in Denver.  I was more than a bit surprised when I heard reported that the OCLC administrative description of those opposed to the new record use policy was that they were “uninformed and uneducated”.  This new policy was proposed by OCLC  and is currently being reviewed by the membership.  It hardly seemed like good sales technique to make that kind of comment to the very people whose approval of the policy is being sought.

On the other hand, there might be a point in that description.   Although I think it applies in the opposite way than intended.   I say this because libraries are the storage center, the central site servers if you will, of human experience and knowledge.  Theoretically we do this for the benefit of mankind. I know this because I am a librarian.  I’ve worked in libraries where I found myself surrounded by the corpus of knowledge of mankind.  I’ve also found that proximity means you absorb more of it than those who aren't as fortunate to have the benefit of that close proximity. I’ve also learned that librarians are highly intelligent people; it's one of the rewards of working with them and I still very much treasure it.  So what might be applicable about this comment is that as a group we (librarians) seem so willing to ignore the history and lessons embedded in that corpus of knowledge we gather, index, protect and offer to others.  In particular I’m referring to the last eight years of history in the United States. I list below the lessons that have been seared into my brain in the last eight years.  I’ve been trying hard to apply these in life and business, and I would hope other librarians are as well:

  1. Membership in any group, association, organization or democracy carries with it, not only the benefits and rights of membership, but also the obligation to pay attention, to question, to participate, to argue and to be convinced of a decision or direction. If one disagrees, then one must speak up.   It's simply an obligation of membership.

  2. You may disagree and find yourself in the company of a majority of members that feel the same way.  If the people you've put in charge of your organization, group, association or country aren't listening to you and the others, then you must actively pursue change through whatever other vehicles that exist.

  3. Decisions made for the wrong reasons typically end up being wrong decisions.   Pay close attention to the justifications provided for decisions – earlier rather than later.  If they’re based on faulty information the results could be disastrous for you and others.

  4. You can't protect the ways of past through brute force (particularly if those ways are simply no longer viable).   All you’ll do is upset a lot of people, make a lot of enemies and probably make the situation a whole lot worse than it was before.

  5. Large or blank checks to do something should come with accountability.  Those you give the right to cut deals on your behalf, must remain accountable to you and your fellow members in how and why they’ve chosen the pathways taken.

  6. What is said and what is done and/or legislated may bear little resemblance to each other.  Therefore, pay attention to what is written/legislated, because that is far more likely to be what happens and it is certainly what counts.

When you look at what has happened so far with this OCLC draft record usage policy, and apply the list of lessons above, there are certainly causes for concern. We’ve seen how this turned out for the United States.   I really hope librarians can find some applicable lessons in that episode of history and make sure, as they decide on this policy, they show they are very educated and very informed.

I encourage members of OCLC to take advantage of the newly announced delay in implementation of the record use policy to get involved and express their views.   The future of libraries may be shaped by it.