Thinking about the Free Range Librarian Thinking about Open Source

Karen Schneider has been Thinking about Open Source.  This is a good thing, as she tends to do a great job exploring the interrelationships between people, organizations, and technology.

I want to highlight one portion of her post in order to praise it, but also to provide a minor critique:

“The problem with proprietary library management software–from a high-level perspective, profession-wide–is that it makes us stupid. It deprofessionalizes who we are and disengages us from tool creation.

“Conversely, every librarian who engages in tool creation to any degree improves the state of librarianship for all of us. This has been true since some guy in a toga put holes in a wall to store the papyrus, and it was true in the 19th century when we agreed as a profession on the size of catalog cards (which led to our early adoption of standards and network-level records), and it  is true in the open source community today.

I wholeheartedly agree with her points.  My one critical note is one that exists throughout the profession : there are many of us who are involved with and care deeply about librarianship, many of us who create new and improved tools and processes that not only improve the state of librarianship, but improve the library experience for all those who utilize the library.

Some of us, however, are not librarians.

On one level, there is the public perception that everyone in the library is a librarian.  I worked as a pharmacy technician for 8 years, and the same perception exists:  everyone in the pharmacy is a pharmacist, which scared me whenever I realized that it was occurring.

In a spiritual sense this is true, however.  We all represent librarianship, even though that term is not in common public use.  We all need to recognize that every idea has weight, and that contributing ideas, as well as contributing “tools”, is everyone’s right, as well as everyone’s responsibility.

I am not only considering library support staff, but the IT staff, custodial staff, and even volunteers who can take a fresh look at what we do and how we are doing it, and seek out ways to improve.  Moving a few chairs to a better location can have as meaningful an impact as installing a new search tool.

I once worked with a student employee who created a wooden and acrylic “shelf facing” tool, used to easily line up shelved books with the front edge of the shelf.  It worked well.  I rarely used it, however, because it was easier for me to grab a hardcover book of a certain size and use it to perform the same task.  Otherwise I would need to walk down to the first floor to get the tool, or carry it around with me.

The important part is that he contributed something that worked, something that gave us a choice in how we could perform a basic, but necessary task.  We all need to do this, to contribute.  In the end, we may not invent the next “big thing”, but we might create a few “little things” that work, and give ourselves and others a choice in how we do our jobs.

We are all a part of librarianship, and librarianship is a part of us.  Recognize that, and you will have given yourself a better chance at saving your library.  The “tools”/ideas/concepts you envision tomorrow might make a huge difference for all of us… but only if you act on your vision.

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One Response to Thinking about the Free Range Librarian Thinking about Open Source

  1. Well put, and good points!

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