A long time ago I had a professor who committed suicide. Not in class of course. He was removed from the course for reason I shall not get into here, but he told the class of the myth of the Phoenix and it stuck with me.
You can read about the myth here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology).
I promise you the belabored gibberish will come back to libraries.
The lecture was about how scientific disciplines rise out of their own ashes and march forward in different incarnations out of death of their predecessors. The reiteration of the process is seen in the pattern of biological decay, like a fractal, the pattern can be compellingly beautiful.
Like the death tarot card (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_(Tarot_card)) much is subject to interpration. I like tarot cards in the sense that at least to me, they are like the Rokeach Test, telling more of the participants than the future. Then again if belief guides perception, you will find varying mileage of accuracy in accordance to the belief.
Like theories of divine prognostication, forever segregating the sacred from the profane in time immemorial, we too have to acknowledge that the conceptual theories we treasure may have been disproven, we too have to let our Phoenix die. And how we come to terms with that will say much about ourselves.
I want to say that the Phoenix of librarianship, the rise and fall so to speak is a graceful rolling of fire and glory. Not that reality of the matter should show the ease and grace of a myth, but there should be some sign of ideas of intent going through some form of formal stages. In other words, how we manifest our intent should die and be reborn in a recognizable way.
To avoid the charge of lacking specifics and whimsical sophistry Iâ€™ll give something of what I mean as plainly as possible.
The adaptation to the digital materials market for libraries has been one of imbalance. The publishers have a monopoly on the materials and how they are accessed and so set terms that benefit themselves at the cost of libraries. It doesnâ€™t have to be this way, but publishers can do so without reprisal and like crackheads that only know one dealer, libraries are at their mercy. And in the process of participation in this market we took what was one of our highest values, that of the privacy of what the patron is reading, and tossed it aside to take part and lead patrons to the hands of the data miners.
Values such as privacy becomes a commodity exchanged in the marketplace for access. Bad deals are taken for access just to meet patron expectations which were cultivated by the marketplace.
The intent, that of having a selection of materials for the population served became an exercise in prostituting digital formats. The novel experience of accessing via a device usurped the content of the material itself. And we are quick to pay for it, ask anyone who has gone over their mobile data plan just who is in charge of their access.
Claiming something as profound as the death of an intent is pretty drastic, and I do not have all the data to proclaim such a statement without leaving the possibility open to being wrong, all I can say is that is how Iâ€™m reading the cards.
But a rebirth is possible. If libraries value the circulation of the selected materials over the trendy formats, that is value the intent over the expectations, weâ€™ll have something of a Phoenix.
I still feel the need to clarify because my point still sounds like a weak tea, so Iâ€™ll develop why I think the intention of lending is so important and why keeping up with the trendy is not.
If I asked you what is the anti-virus for the mind, you may well say something like critical reasoning. Rather, the ability to tell shit from shinola. Critical reasoning exercised in formal government education is expected to continue, if not in collegiate/work environment, at least at oneâ€™s own pace to oneâ€™s own abilities and interest. This becomes pricey, books for self edification can exceed what people can afford to pay. Incidentally, I do feel that saucy novels are exercises of the mind that should not be shamed, but explored and celebrated. And with careful selection, promotion and guidance libraries can do much good in helping people.
Trouble arises when the funding for materials becomes jeopardized, fair enough that the economic vicissitudes should have an impact on selection, but jeopardizing the priority of maximum impact for technolust is detrimental to all. I like ebooks in libraries, I just donâ€™t think the game is worth the candle because of what you get for your money and privacy cost.
Digital publishing isnâ€™t limited to the ebooks provided by the big publishers or the middlemen that profit from library subscriptions. And what is at stake is not only what popular books can be distributed on kindles from the library, it is the access to ideas told by the storyteller of our culture. It is the ability for self education and exercise of the intellect, the intention of the authors to communicate. The element of profit is to keep the whole game going, not to kill the golden goose.
And so I argue that that the course of our intention has run into a blind alley because of the acquiescence to patron expectations shaped by the market place. We are supposed to offer the intellectual anti-virus against shoddy thinking and not succumb to the pressures of the market place.