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Charleston Presentation: Rick Anderson & Future Librarians

Yesterday's LibraryJournal.com reported on the ever-insightful 
Rick Anderson's Charleston presentation thus:

"Anderson took aim at many of the standard practices of the 
profession, calling into question the sensibility of interlibrary 
loan (ILL), Big Deal subscriptions, reference/bibliographic 
instruction, and the notion of distributed cataloging efforts. He 
noted that these practices were not originally bad ideas, and 
were in fact savvy solutions to problems that arose during the 
20th century.  They have, however, been mostly outmoded by 
available technologies and services, and no longer serve the 
needs of 21st century libraries... librarians have to realign 
their expectations and aim for something much greater than just 
giving access to a limited set of materials. They must strive to 
give access to every book that's ever been published, and make 
that access 'realizable immediately.' Though there will be 
interim compromises that fall short of that goal, Anderson said, 
striving for the 'unattainable ideal' is the only strategy that 
makes sense as libraries contemplate future services."

A news report doesn't always get the content or tone completely 
right, and Rick will correct me or supplement the report.  But I 
was struck by the unitarian (so to speak) focus on the one task 
of making every book ever published available immediately.  Some 

1.  Every book ever published?  That's a really big job -- the 
long tail of obscure, rare, odd, and local-interest material is 
just immense.  Could we settle for 99%?

2.  Even if we do that, it's a small part of our job.  When one 
works in a library, one knows well the challenges of serving 
one's constituency:  every library has a specific group of people 
and interests we are charged to serve.  Our readers need us now 
more than ever and will go on needing us in many ways.  We are 
likely to create in our libraries more positions with a job 
description (now at Yale and other institutions) of "personal 
librarian" and will have fewer or none of some other categories, 
but that's good news.  Standing at the boundary where the user 
works and the world of information she or he needs to use is a 
challenging, interesting, and worthy place.

3.  We have a duty here.  A larger or smaller number of our 
constituents, students, citizens, whomever, aren't able to afford 
the kind of access to information that they need, and it has long 
been libraries' mission to be the watchdogs and activitsts for 
"equal opportunity readership".  That job's not going away, 
especially in a world increasingly aimed at the reader as 

4.  There are other tasks that don't vanish or get easier or less 
important.  Just take preservation -- whether for analog 
materials or e-materials.  Both are challenging jobs, and 
libraries have a role in making sure they are done.  With 
e-materials, the preservation task begins even before the 
material exists and reaches us, as we set up the protocols of 
publishing and display.

5.  Last of all, we've a lot of work in building special 
collections -- those unique gatherings of materials that are 
meaningful and understood when they're together in one place - 
and that need special care and attention.  For years, I've said 
libraries' acquisitions budgets must shift towards the things 
that are going to be unique contributions of our institutions.

Doing one thing mustn't keep us from remembering to do and 
prepare to meet our several professional responsibilities. 
There's much to be done beyond digitization of everything in the 
world.  And those tasks are likely harder in the long run.

Ann Okerson
Yale Library