This is a rant post. Please feel free to turn away now.
I’m not sure how, why or when, but libraries have totally given up control. Think about it. We don’t control our revenues. We don’t control the systems we depend on. We don’t control the content. We have almost no content that we actually own. We barely control the organizational mechanism we have relied on for decades.
As a public institution, most of us relying on tax dollars, it makes sense that we just can’t spend whatever we feel like. But our insistence on remaining unbiased has certainly hurt us here. Not only do we need to speak up. We need to control the messages associated with libraries. Other Public service groups have a much louder and more sophisticated voice than we do. Teachers, police, fire fighters, even postal workers are much more organized than we are. This has to stop!
Why do educational institutions still get to control their prime service? Yes, educators, for the most part, still have control of the curriculum they teach, the methods they use, and what happens in the classroom. They still have control over their prime business. We do not. Publishers, vendors, and other content providers are eroding the very core of what we do. Is it inconceivable to believe that eBooks will dominate the book world? In many cases, eBooks already dominate. So what will the world look like in 10 years when every has an eReader? What will our business model be when we have virtually no content to provide the technology that seems to be mainstream? We need to defend our rights as providers of a public good.
When did we turn over control of system creation? It’s actually kind of funny, we make the systems and then we turn them over to someone else who charges us for the very systems we created. We need to refocus on system design, but more importantly, we need to retain the control over the systems. This is about much more than the ILS, but I’m talking just about every worthless, complicated system we have. I’m talking about calendar and event systems, ILS, print-release, computer-reservation, CMS, discovery layer, etc… As an added bonus, if we created these systems, we could actually integrate the systems. Wouldn’t it be nice if a library member could make a computer reservation, register for a program, and check out a book all from one system?
I know this is just a rant. I don’t really offer much in the way of constructive solutions. I am so hopeful for the profession that I love. But I am simultaneously worried. I can’t look anyone in the face and say that I think the trend will be good to us. If our control over revenue, content and systems continue to erode I think the writing will be on the wall. I guess much of the solution from where I sit (it’s snowing in Chicago) depends on us joining together. We need to join our voices together. We need to pool our talents and resources to create systems that actually work for us. And we need to talk directly to the authors. The SPARC addendum works (sometimes) in the academic publishing world, maybe it can work here.