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Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan Lester) -- Rick Anderson Stephen Clark 27 Sep 2002 12:45 UTC

-------- Original Message --------
From: "Rick Anderson" <>
Subject: RE: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
Lester)-- Frieda Rosenberg
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 14:50:19 -0700

 > 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...

Sure, and like I said, no library will ever meet all wants (or even all
needs).  My point is that it's time for us to take a step back from the
standards that we have set for ourselves as a profession, and instead
examine more critically our ability to actually provide information to our

 > 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.

I'm not accusing anyone of callousness.  I'm saying that when we fail to
meet an information need, we've failed -- whether or not we've met some
internally-established standard.  We can fail in a very nice and considerate
way, or we can fail in a callous and rude way.  To me, the fundamental
question is whether the patron ends up with the information she sought.  Is
it reasonable to expect every library to have every issue of every journal
ever published in its collection?  Of course not.  So it's certainly
excusable for me not to have a journal that my patron might need.  But the
fact that I have an excuse doesn't help my patron much.

 > Nor is equating hewing to standards with toadying to higher-ups "fair."

I don't think Jack Welch was talking about "toadying to higher-ups."  I
think he was talking about an organizational culture that measures itself
against internal, corporate criteria instead of measuring itself by its
ability to fully satisfy its customers.  I certainly don't expect widespread
agreement here, but it seems to me like that's exactly what we librarians
are doing way too much of right now.  Faced with patrons whose research
behavior has radically changed over the past ten years, we're still
tinkering with AACR and doing subject authority work and, yes, checking in
print journal issues.  These are things that allow us to feel good about
ourselves as librarians, but they do not meaningfully improve patron access
to information, not when 73% of college students are saying that they use
the Internet but don't use the library.  The information world has changed
fundamentally, and yet we are not critically examining the most fundamental
aspects of our work.

By no means am I saying that we should not hew to standards.  We absolutely
should.  But the standards to which we hew should be informed by the needs
of our patrons, not by professional benchmarks that were set during a
different information era.

That's the way I see it, anyway.  Like I said, I don't expect everyone to

Rick Anderson
Director of Resource Acquisition
The University Libraries
University of Nevada, Reno          "Beware any theory that
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