Do you think libraries and librarians are important? (#scio10)

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Librarians & Scientists: YMMV

…people (and more so engineers and scientists) consult their friends first, then their files, then after trying everything else, consult the library. It’s sort of the library/librarian as goalie metaphor (you know, 10 other people missed the ball so the goalie has to save it).

Science Online 2010: Scientists and librarians

Stephanie Willen Brown and I did our level best to bust some stereotypes and suggest some points of contact during our (lightly-attended) session. I think we did a reasonably good job of it; I only wish we could have reached more people.

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12 thoughts on “Do you think libraries and librarians are important? (#scio10)

  1. I think Google has the right idea about manuscripts in the public domain – digitize ’em (or transcribe them) and make them available to the general public. I think this is something that would be great to do on a national scale (and also international). In principle that should allow library users access to far more material than can be physically stored at any site. That’ll keep librarians busy for a very long time. Unfortunately, at least for rare manuscripts, many people have this attitude that electronic copies must not be made without paying someone huge sums of money. At the moment if I need access to an ancient manuscript I’ve got to find the curators, get permission to read the document, and arrange to fly over to visit. Historians need to do that thing all the time (fortunately I’m a chemist so it’s pretty rare than I need to dig up anything older than 120 years) – how wonderful to have electronic access to documents (or transcriptions) with a good provenance.

    I think on a national level perhaps public libraries should also have access to professional journals, even if individual users need to pay a small annual subscription fee. The current “that’ll be $30 for a 1-off access to this article please” is infuriating. I’ve given up my private journal subscriptions because I simply couldn’t justify the $8k or so per year. (That’s also one good reason why I tend to favor the Open Access Journals where I can.)

  2. The thing is, that libraries are already there to the extent possible. University libraries function as on line services with outstanding “technical support” (but where the technical support is very broad and includes academic support). It helps that in all academic areas almost everything important has been published on line over the last decade or more.

    As far as I know, librarians are leading the way in the area of OpenAccess.

  3. As someone who frequently visits the local library, actually the library of a neighboring city because our local library and its contents was destroyed in a flood. I beleive libraries are extremely important and judging by the number of people I see at the library, I’m not alone in that thought.

    Certainly, digitial media will have a huge impact on what libraries of the future will look like. But I think that’s going to take some time before it is worked out, because of issues with digital rights. Hopefully anyway, because old folks like me like to read books and enjoy going to the library building itself.

    I have a fear that a commercial take-over of libraries will take place once digital media over-takes books. You’ll be reading your eBook and every 3 pages is an advertisment personalized for your demographic. (If that’s what we’re facing, getting old and dying doesn’t look so bad after all.)

  4. I’m with Joel on this one. To go a step further, .pdf files are nice for a new paper from PLoS, but when I want to read Origin of Species or a textbook or a novel, nothing compares to 10 kilos of dead tree wrapped in a cow’s ass.

    I love my books, and Kindle can suck it.

  5. Love the librarian as goalie metaphor.

    This thread makes me sad, too — at the two universities I’ve worked at most recently, we are heavily emphasizing online vs print (at least with respect to acquisition of access to scientific articles).

    What we librarians are NOT doing well is communicating what we have to scientists & other scholars. We are also NOT making our material easy to use, the way Google is. Some of it is admittedly more complex than what Google is doing, but some of it is legacy systems (and mindset) left over from the days when the librarian was not the last person in the world you’d ask for help with research.

    I think that the solution is for librarians to be “embedded” with scholars at many levels – by going to conferences such as #scio10, by participating in forums like this & twitter, and by being strongly linked to the departments and staff whom we serve. … hmmm, I feel a blog post brewing …

  6. That’s interesting, Stephanie. The embedded idea could work, and I was thinking of something similar, analogous to how an IT department works. They’re not embedded, per se, but they are sought out for guidance, particularly on how to set things up so they’ll be manageable in the long term. Guidance in a similar fashion on research projects and info architecture that pays off long term may be similarly useful, if one can carefully craft the value proposition to get past the “but I can just buy another filing cabinet” argument.

    If you don’t realize it already, it should be clear now that researchers aren’t going to seek you out, at least not until they’ve exhausted all other options and someone finally clues them in. You have to go to them.

  7. Libraries are important. Librarians are not. Beer is important, bartenders aren’t. Football is important, color announcers aren’t. Things are important, but the people who provide them just need to be good. Important librarians, professors or anyone else are just a pain in the ass and a distraction from important shit, like beer, football and libraries.

  8. Librarians are teh awesome! I don’t say that just because I’m friends with several, although I am. I say it because I and most of the people I know who actually use libraries have had our asses saved by librarians more than once.

  9. My mother was a librarian and was eager to transform her library in a small town from a place that really only did books and periodicals into the town resource. It was the place where people got their internet access, it was the place where they gathered, it was the place where people got to know what’s what when they moved to town.

    She turned it into a resource for everything in a town of 1200 people. Librarians are important, Nicholas.

  10. Libraries are important, but every time I go to one, I end up filling in an inter-library loan slip to get at the stuff I really need. It’s the rare books that need to be acccessed, and they need to be made public, and openly available on the internet.

    If I want to read a novel, or a general science book, I’ll take paper, thanks. But if it’s information I’m after, I’ll take electronic, and I want it now, not in 3 weeks.

  11. Mike, Librarians, on the whole, are just self important. I’ve been one for 20 years, so I know. I’m sure your Mom was important to her town, but most of us are just interchangeable academic bureaucrats struggling to look important and necessary. We’re also hypocrites and cowards. We bluster about freedom of speech, but cave in to the feeblest PC complaint. We’ll bravely put copies of Suzy Has Three Daddies, Two Mommies and a Nipple Ring on the shelves, but when it comes to less NPR approved topics, we fold. Here, we took down a picture on our web site from the Archives of students taken in 1950 because there were no blacks in it, and that made someone upset. The fact that there were few blacks on campus and it was an historical document didn’t matter. Librarians could be important, but most of us don’t want to bother. Soon there will be fewer and fewer of us, and the defensive self importance will only increase.

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