Love in the Stacks: Why Not?

The New York Times has a nice write-up about speed-dating nights held at public libraries. It includes an interview with a man who says he hasn’t stepped foot in a public library in years. It was also cute to read about the librarians that organize these events. They probably feel like high school teachers that chaperone the prom! The speed-dating participants were told to bring their favorite book:

Can Atlas Shrugged find love with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test? Is attraction possible between a Jonathan Franzen reader and a die-hard Elizabeth Gilbert fan?

One of the libraries mentioned in the article is San Francisco Public Library. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good report of the event with a catchy headline: Singles Check One Another Out. The article talks up libraries “new” social aspects.

Now I know folks who say that this shouldn’t be part of a library’s mission, but the “community” is the library’s mission. If it’s something that can benefit the community, then why not?

It also reminds me of my favorite librarian/love anecdote. This is a true story:

A librarian is sitting at the reference desk. Behind her are large volumes of Chemical Abstracts (back when print was the only option!). In comes a chemistry professor. He walks up to the desk and asks her, “Do you have a background in chemistry?” Motioning behind her to the Chemical Abstracts, she says, “Why yes, I do!” The professor laughs. They started dating and ended up getting married.

Love in the stacks? This librarian approves.

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!