Back to the Future: A Library/Technology Lesson from 1983

Heading up to my office, I noticed this little nugget hanging on the bulletin board by the staff elevator:

Microcomputers for Libraries

“Microcomputers are most certainly the key to the future.”

Wow! Now this is why I stay away from making technology predictions. The book is: Microcomputers: How Useful are They? Written by Jane Beaumont and Donald Krueger, it was published in 1983 by the Canadian Library Association. According to WorldCat, there are still 214 libraries that hold this book–well, make that 213. The reason it was spotlighted on our bulletin board is that it’s headed to the “withdraw” pile.

Inside, the preface is a bit chuckle-inducing:

In January 1981, I was discussing career prospects for information specialists with a colleague. He ominously discussed the impending demise of librarians who fail to recognize and respond to new technologies. “Microcomputers,” he emphasized, “are most certainly the key to the future.”

…I sensed my curiosity being whetted by his cogent contentions and my ears succumbing to his stentorian tones. No doubt I encountered feelings which are not unique, a vague professional malaise and a timid personal hesitation which might have indicated a desire for change restrained by fear of personally initiating it.

Despite the laughs, the premise still holds true today: libraries and librarians must adapt to new technologies. However, I think “adapting” to new technologies places us in a reactive mode when we need to be in an active mode. This point has been most exemplified with the recent decision by HarperCollins to restrict its e-book lending to only 26 check-outs before the license expires. The Twitterverse exploded on Friday with tweets (search Twitter for #hcod)  from angry librarians (completely justified, btw) responding to the new terms of service.

But how do we get from being reactive to active? The Librarian in Black blog is a good starting point. Check out posts on eBook User’s Bill of Rights and Library eBook Revolution, Begin. Short of getting a librarian appointed to corporate boards of publishing companies, what else can we do? Lobbying publishing companies, educating authors and e-book readers, partnering with the American Library Association, promoting changes in digital rights management and copyright law all come to mind. A boycott of HarperCollins now started, too. Beyond protests, I’d like to know from librarians as to what concrete steps can be taken. I’m not an expert in this, but would like to be a part of the solution. Let me know!

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4 thoughts on “Back to the Future: A Library/Technology Lesson from 1983

  1. Great Post! I think you’ve got the beginning of the answer. Make ourselves heard. Make ourselves more visible. Educate the about our services and our public. Advocate for both. Write about what we do. Show up in places people don’t expect us. (Set up tables at old home days and any other places that let us.) Design presentations that we can give to people outside of the library field. Participate in community affairs, whether in our town or on our campus. Show up at other people’s conferences i.e. publishing conferences. Network with people in related fields…the more outreach we do, the better off the field is and the better we can serve everyone.

    • Thanks…I’ve been thinking the same thing with the recent news about the elimination of the Statistical Abstract. I actually contact my representative and senators for the first time! Trying to advocate!

  2. I agree with the point that libraries need to become more proactive… and yet I too keep getting hung up on the hows.

    I’m finishing up library school this semester, so take my observations with a grain salt, but while libraries are doing great things with outreach and integration with their communities, I haven’t seen them yet getting proactive with asserting their needs to publishers. And again, how can they? Libraries are not quite a vaunted institution these days; they don’t swing as much influence as they really need. In this case, yes, libraries buy books and ebooks, but they don’t make up a majority –or even a significant minority, from the numbers I’ve seen– of book sales. Major academic libraries have a bit more heft than public libraries, but they’re still struggling to not get ripped off to access their own professors’ papers.

    And when more and more people would rather just buy a book in the first place rather than check it out, how can we reach them to make them care about issues like this? It seems more and more like an impossible task.

    • Great points! I’m always struck by people who will buy lots of books (not that I think that’s a bad thing!) or people w/ Netflix subscriptions…but they NEVER think about just going to the library and checking something out for FREE!

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