Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Entering an Alternate Universe: Some Consequences of Implementing Recommendations of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Entering an Alternate Universe: Some Consequences of Implementing Recommendations of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control

Article excerpt

This paper is derived from the keynote speech delivered to the New England Technical Services Librarians Annual Conference held in Worchester, Massachusetts, on April 4, 2008. It retains much of its original oral presentation style.

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In its final report, On the Record, the Library of Congress (LC) Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control suggested that our future depends in part on defining the bibliographic universe as reaching "beyond libraries, publishers and database producers to include creators, vendors, distributors, stores, and user communities, among others, across sectors and international boundaries." (1)

Implementation of all of the Working Group's recommendations, however, requires more than mere redefinitions. In some senses, it requires us to take up residence in an alternate universe, with new understandings, new perspectives, and new responsibilities. In this editorial I will describe what I regard as some of the important aspects of that alternate universe. In order to convey the extent of change that they represent, I will begin by describing salient features of the universe in which we have long been living.

The Old Universe

When I entered the profession in 1970, it was taken for granted that libraries were a public good, that services that libraries offered were a public good, and that obtaining those services was a fight of all the people. The fruits of using libraries--education, knowledge, information, and improving oneself were recognized as unassailably worthy. Whatever it took to provide those things was considered reasonable.

Libraries, whether public or academic, were viewed as genteel places. We were a part of polite society. Doing it right was important. Doing it fast was less crucial. After all, good things may take time. Doing it cheaper would be nice, but doing it on the cheap was a betrayal of what we were about. That genteel world developed around print on paper, books, journals, and literature, and all of our practices were well suited to that world. Other kinds of materials were just that--the "other stuff'--of lesser importance to us and to our users. Consequently, the other stuff got less attention, and we made what we did with it fit into the pattern of what we did for books and journals.

In our gentility, we treasured rare and valuable items, and we eared about them both as carriers of content and as artifacts. We did not lend them out, and we restricted access to them even within our own buildings. We described them with infinite care when we could get around to it--and filed the information about them in separate catalogs or in printed finding aids. Access to the material required physical presence, and often required intermediation by a curator who watched over both the reader and the materials while they were in use. If we could not get around to describing the materials, well, there was always the curator to help the reader find them. Readers and scholars in distant places had to guess that we might have something of interest to them, had to write to us, or even come for a visit just to find out what we had. In that genteel world, we cared about serving people, and we cared about not wasting money and about not wasting time, but our perception of how much trouble, or money, or time was a waste was different from what it is today.

We know that we are part of a graying profession, and that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of librarians are going to be retiring within the next ten years. (2) Data derived from 2005 show that one third of the professionals employed in the Association for Research Libraries (ARL) libraries are aged fifty-five or above, and indicate that "in US ARL libraries, high levels of retirements appear inevitable through 2015." (3) Although these data are only for libraries that are a part of the ARL, they are suggestive for the profession at large. The Future of Librarians in the Workforce (http:// libraryworkforce. …

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