In Praise of Librarians

The last time I spoke to a group of librarians, at the APLA conference several years ago in Charlottetown, I spent 45 minutes tearing a strip out of them for creating poorly designed, poorly conceived, poorly connected websites. I fear that what I intended as a rallying cry came off sounding smarmy and more like “you guys are really jerks” and there was a palpable chill in the room when I was done.

Not being able to face the cold wrath of disgruntled librarians again, I opted to end on a cheerier note in my talk to the systems librarians at Access 2002 yesterday:

You are the caretakers of a set of fragile and brilliant ideas about information and how it should be stored and organized and made accessible to all.

And you live in a world that is increasingly telling you that you are nuts.

Reading between the lines of Access this week, I picked up a subtle chord of exasperation — a sense that constant battling with evil vendors and stupid governments and misguided funding agencies and the power hungry jerks in the computer room is starting to wear you down.

Please don’t let it.

Please know that your work is valued by those on the outside.

Please know that at least some of us are ready to go to the baricades with you on issues of freedom of information, access, and equity.

Please know that in the group that yesterday was dismissed as tatooed, nose-ringed Pringles can collectors are people who share many of your ideals, and if you can find ways of letting them inside the castle, the will glady come, create, spread, innovate, program, and perhaps even entertain.

I will leave you today with some words from the The Committee on Cooperative Principles from 1965:

Cooperation at its best aims at something beyond promotion of interests of individual members (…) Its object is rather to promote the progress and welfare of the humanity.”

That is your business too. I laud you for it. Keep up the good fight.”

Needless to say, I was somewhat better received.

Preparing a talk is an all-consuming process for me. The carefully crafted “just in time” preparation methods I inherited from my father, while saving me from the travails of advance preparation, do result in a sort of surreal extended low-level panic for the days and hours leading up to the event. It’s somewhat agonizing, but ultimately helpful and probably worth it.


Peter Lux's picture
Peter Lux on October 25, 2002 - 18:09 Permalink

I’m assuming that this is translated from the Bathian Z39 language that it was originaly delivered in. I know a few librarians on both coasts that would love to hear these words. Well spoken.

On another note, I’m dying to hear the continuation of “while saving me from the travails of advance preparation”… or is this just a taunt aimed at evoking a multitude of responses? This could be the beginning of a virtual “Whose Line is it Anyway?.”

art's picture
art on October 27, 2002 - 00:31 Permalink

As always, a talk that was brilliant and poignant. Despite being handed the slot from hell, i.e., the last one in the conference, this talk ended things on a high and inspirational note. I was always greatly heartened by how many systems librarians I would run into when I was involved in Windsor