Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan Lester) -- 3 messages Stephen Clark 26 Sep 2002 17:36 UTC

3 messages:


-------- Original Message --------
From: "Peter Picerno" <>
Subject: RE: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
Lester) --             Rick Anderson
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 11:53:21 -0400

Strictly speaking, the requests below are failures. Put back into the
restaurant contexts, however,
if one goes to a MacDonalds (or Wendy's or whatever) and asks for pasta
primavera and white wine, that's also a failure? If one goes to Antoine's in
New Orleans and asks for a taco salad, that's also a failure? I believe that
the managers of the two places in question would refer the customer to
either a chi-chi fern-restaurant (in the first instance) or to a Mexican
restaurant (in the second instance). The point, which should be obvious by
now, is that no library can possibly have everything every patron wants:
indeed, I can think of many libraries which *shouldn't* have Gutenberg
Bibles or rare books printed in the 18th century. That's why there are such
things as archival institutions and special colletions (duh!) ... just as
most libraries do tend, I believe, to specialize in the needs of the
majority of their patrons. In the case of a library not having what the
patron requests, the real failure in service would be to not be able to
direct the patron to a library where that item/service IS available.

Peter Picerno

Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 11:52:27 -0500
From: Karen Chobot <>
Subject: Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
   Lester) -- Rick Anderson

Sorry - this just caught my eye and I don't agree with your definition
of failure.  Maybe there was more there in the original, which I seem to
have missed.  But your definition seems to be that anything that is
asked for and not received is a failure.

Further, I am not sure about your definition of "information."  A
Gutenberg Bible is not information, it is a physical object.  I can
supply a great deal of information about that Bible, without the
physical item.  The burden should not be on every library to supply
everything.  You may consider that "rhetoric."  I consider it "common
sense" not to set ourselves impossible standards.

Every library has a mission, a clientele, and a "territory".  This may
include support for an organization, a school, a geographical area, or
whatever you define yourself as.  This defines how collection
development is done.  Success then comes not in supplying anything in
the world, but in supplying those items which fit into the definition of
who you are.  There are many things which are nice to supply, but they
are not essential to who you are.  Gutenberg Bibles fall into this area.
  If I am a major theological research institution, such a Bible is
essential.  For a junior high school library, it is not.  It is a
failure for the one not to supply, but not the other.

In my opinion, most libraries DO have their faces to the customer,
within the boundaries and definition of who they are.  In fact, many
times we go far beyond our own borders to locate things people want that
are not our focus.  This is simply good service and good PR.  But the
true test is whether we supply what we say we will to those who are our

No one library can supply everything.  The rest of us have choices to
make about what we can and cannot do.  If you define failure that way,
no library anywhere can succeed.  In my opinion, that serves no one.

Karen M. Chobot, MLS
Director, Mildred Johnson Library
800 N. 6th St.
Wahpeton ND 58076


Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 13:10:16 -0400 (EDT)
From: dgoodman@Princeton.EDU (David Goodman (dgoodman@Princeton.EDU))
Subject: Re: Library failure  -- RickAnderson

You are not necessarily a failure. The policy of a library, as Rick
correctly says, should be should be "based on what our patrons need."
But these examples are not necessarily what the patron needs; they are
not necessarily even what the patron wants; they are merely what the
patron asks for.

In the first case, You probably merely want to see a reproduction, and a
good research library should not merely have a reproduction, but should
suggest it. If you need to see the original, there are copies on public
display in a few locations. If you need not merely to see it but to work
with it, then of course you will also need an appropriate introduction
to the curator of the collection, and arranging for this is part of a
librarian's job.

In the second case you may well need it; you do not necessarily need the
original. There are microform and  electronic collections of books from
that period, and a really good research library should have these
collections. If it isn't in them yet, then the library should offer to
obtain microfilm, and pay the cost.

If in either case you actually do need the original, then the obligation
to supply it rests on not the individual library, but the library system
as a whole. Appropriate referral is part of library work.

In my experience, in the 3rd case it is likely you do indeed need what
you asked for. It is a library failure, --in this case because of an
unreasonable policy. In my opinion it is the obligation of any academic
library to  have at least one back-up reserve copy of the textsbooks
used in the current courses -- if for no other reason than that the
instructor may come in to check in quickly before class! It is also in
my opinion appropriate policy not to supply these in sufficient quantity
to substitute for purchase of the textbook.

Not all desires in the world can be satisfied, but many of the ones in
our domain can be at least partially met.

David Goodman
Princeton University Library

-------- Original Message --------
From: "Rick Anderson" <>
Subject: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan Lester)
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 08:20:09 -0700

  > If I come in and seek the Gutenberg Bible and
  > don't get it right away, is that a failure?


  > If I come in and ask for
  > a rare book published in 1775 and owned by only thirty libraries in
  > the country, is that a failure?


  > If I come in and ask for a copy of my
  > English 101 textbook, and the library, by policy, doesn't purchase
  > textbooks, is that a failure?


In all three cases, the library has failed in the attempt to provide needed
information to its patrons.  That doesn't mean that the library isn't a good
library; all libraries (like all people and organizations) will fail
sometimes.  But the standard against which we measure ourselves should not,
in my opinion, be what librarians consider to be good information service.
It should be based on what our patrons need.  If we can't (or simply don't)
give them what they need, that's a failure whether or not our level of
service is consistent with professional standards.

I'm not a big fan of corporate management rhetoric, but I've always liked
Jack Welch's observation that in too many organizations, "Most people have
their a--es to the customer and their faces to the chairman."  Substitute
"patron" for "customer" and "professional standards" for "chairman," and I
think you've got a pretty fair assessment (no pun intended) of where we
stand as a profession right now.

Rick Anderson
Director of Resource Acquisition
The University Libraries
University of Nevada, Reno          "Beware any theory that
1664 No. Virginia St.                explains everything and
Reno, NV  89557                      predicts nothing."
PH  (775) 784-6500 x273              -- Richard C. Galbraith
FX  (775) 784-1328

Stephen D. Clark
Acquisitions Librarian
College of William and Mary
Earl Gregg Swem Library
Acquisitions Department
P.O. Box 8794
Williamsburg, VA  23187-8794
fax:  757.221.2635