Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Two Hour Meeting to Plan A One Hour Meeting?

I just read Alexander Johannesen's resignation from a library in Canberra, Australia. Mr. Johannesen is not a 'librarian' by training and admits that he is leaving libraries due to an incompatibility. So it goes.

"Every time I see a glimmer of hope or a flash of something exciting going on in the library world, it usually fast fades into a charades of politics and committee-shuffle. I'm too impatient for this, and I seriously think the world is, too ; it will race past us as we decide on who's going to chair what committee, who'll take notes, and how we're reporting progress to what group. Also since these glimmers of hope usually is attached to specific people more than institutions or organizations, whenever that person goes or moves, so does the glimmer. Again, because we're not traditionally in the business of technical development, we're so fragile..."

It is unfortunate that Mr. Johannesen is so frustrated. Yet, I do think that the perspective he offers as a programmer coming into the library profession is an important one. One could try to argue the culture and problems he encountered are unique to his library, but we all know better.

This quickly brought to mind Stephen Abram's quote:

"librarians like to process things to death, and death wasn't the original goal."

Just yesterday, I had lunch with a colleague who is not a librarian, but whose current and previous positions have allowed her to work closely with libraries and librarians. Our various discussion topics always seemed to loop back around to the culture of libraries, resistance to change, and the need to process EVERYTHING.

Another colleague also told me yesterday that earlier in the day they were in a two hour library meeting to discuss plans for a one hour meeting.

What's the deal with us, folks??!!

What also concerns me is that Mr. Johannesen is a self admitted "mid-life-crisis-aged" individual. What will happen when the younger generation begins to enter the profession? The next generation of library scientists graduating from library schools will be hardwired to naturally accept the technology driven/focused definition of a library. Will this culture embedded in the 'legacy' librarians reaching retirement bubble simply be handed off to the next generation, or, will the next generation finally force a culture shift?

I am fairly confident that Mr. Johannesen is not alone in his frustration about the library culture and maybe even with his unwillingness to wait for that shift to occur. Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

I'm a 'younger generation' librarian who's leaving the world of libraries tomorrow after 5 years, for many of the reasons outlined in this post. I was hugely enthusiastic about the potential for libraries and developments for the library world when I started out, but that's gradually been diminished by the opposition to change that I've constantly experienced.

The way I see it, there's a huge fear of making a mistake, or of something going wrong amongst managers in the libraries I've experienced. I've seen so many occasions where people are unwilling to try new things, or change things that are being done badly, just in case they get worse - or an unforeseen problem emerges.

My biggest frustration is with the pervading culture of 'librarian knows best' - even if what the librarian knows (or thinks) is best, is completely irrelevant to anyone who might be interested in using the Library service.

I hope this doesn't sound too bitter - but I thought it was worth giving the opinion of somebody else who's leaving the profession (even if just to confirm that Mr Johannesen isn't alone in his views)

Anonymous said...

I am also a programmer who entered the profession about 4 years ago (not counting library grad school).

I have no intention of leaving librarianship, but I share the frustration that many techies feel after being in the field a few years.

I am lucky to have a director who is very gung-ho on trying new things and exploring new technologies. He's definitely an exception to the rule, though.

In addition to the rampant technophobia and fear of change among librarians, I have noticed an attitude of "I shouldn't have to learn things in my spare time" and "I have an MLS - I shouldn't have to study anymore."

Things will change, though it will probably take the retirement of some of more of the baby boomer crowd to open the way for it.

- Jesse