Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan Lester) -- Frieda Rosenberg Stephen Clark 26 Sep 2002 18:40 UTC

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 13:53:01 -0400
From: Frieda Rosenberg <>
Organization: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library
Subject: Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
Lester) --Rick  Anderson

Oh, well.
Such a broad definition of failure is neither practical nor a compelling
argument to make in front of funding sources.  E.g., suppose you can get
the Gutenberg bible in the university library nearby, a microfilm of the
rare book by ILL, a copy of the textbook from wherever one gets
textbooks.  If the librarian has not factored in such circumstances when
he takes his "failure report" to the administrator, the administrator
should look at it with a wary eye.  A patron might "need" a circulating
copy of the Gutenberg, and we don't have one.  Do we fail then too?
There are needs and then there are wants...

Any argument can be reduced to an absurdity if it's as dogmatic as this
one.  And the accusation that in not serving every need, we're being
callous, is just motivational hype from a (most callous) master of it.
Nor is equating hewing to standards with toadying to higher-ups "fair."
The idea that such an offensive characterization is a "fair assessment"
of where we are as a profession is absurd.

Frieda Rosenberg
UNC-Chapel Hill

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