Special Interest Section
|From the Chair|
Recently while reading an account of Franklin Roosevelt's childhood, I was struck by the contrast between his privileged, aristocratic upbringing among the Knickerbocker gentry of the Hudson valley and the sometimes hardscrabble life of a boy just about his own age in western Missouri, Harry Truman. If a lesson can be learned from that contrast it may be in support of the claim that anyone can become president (although we are still a few elections away from being able to see that this ideal applies to every race, gender, and creed). And we may also learn from both of these Presidents that you don't always get what you expect. How could the scion of one of the oldest families of the most traditional, monied class introduce an approach to government so despised by the very people he associated with? How could a man from a Jim Crow state desegregate the American military against the strong opposition of its leaders? The person who has more than he needs and the person who has less can both end up saying, "There must be more to life than this." And so there is. In both cases, you have people who looked beyond their particular situation to ask about the larger universe. Comfortable, normal middle-class existence (the fate of most librarians, I would guess) is less likely to bring people to such ruminations naturally. There must be something else that compels it. It is also tempting to say that since our work is not at the same level of importance as a President's, we have much less need to worry about the sorts of issues that anyone can call "big picture". Thinking that goes beyond our own work often involves nothing larger than the department, the library, or the parent institution.
But the world has become one that revolves around the issues we are trained in: The Information Age is in full flower. Here is a compelling reason for us to take notice of the larger universe: it is becoming a universe that relies on our sort of expertise more and more. We now have plenty of motivation and even compulsion to look at that larger universe. It has been gratifying to see librarians participating in the conversations and shaping the agenda in this new era. For all the worries our profession has about images, I think this era has already demonstrated that librarians are adapting and contributing in significant ways to the understanding of the information explosion. And in the inevitable "second stage" or whatever appellation is attached to the next phase of the era, technical services librarians will be even more necessary. All of those traits which may have seemed too fussy and old-fashioned in the first gung-ho wave of the Web (insisting on authoritative headings, controlled vocabularies, universally-applied methods of describing) will be seen as more valuable as people work to bring that world of information into order.
"Order" has had a bad rap. Ever since Mussolini and his stupid trains running on time, the idea of order has often been associated with fascists, or (more mildly) with the small-minded. Emerson's "hobgoblin of little minds" has been a thorn in the side of the technical services world for a long time. But we must remember that Emerson's hobgoblin was a "foolish consistency." And who can argue with that? But at times in the past, all the consistency that resulted in the famously complicated rules of our little world (not just AACR, but rules for filing cards that ran to a hundred pages) has been deemed foolish. But the anarchy of information on the Internet demonstrates fairly clearly that a little consistency (and nothing approaching a foolish consistency) would be a good thing. The question of how to achieve order without stultifying the openness and freedom which have been the foundations of the success of the Internet are the great points in the upcoming analysis. I think the solution lies in our traditional role. We will identify, select, acquire, organize, and prepare for our patrons those "materials" which are best suited to our libraries. We won't be able to do everything, but we never have. It may mean that the world (including, and perhaps, especially the legal world) is going to need more and more trained professionals to do all these things in order to get some sort of handle on the web of information floating around out there. That will not be such a bad position for us to be in. If we can figure out good ways to find the best things on the Internet, make them available to our patrons, and organize them to make them easy to find, we will ensure that the library continues to be the place people turn to first to find the best information. It will be continually important for all of us to put our best skills into the enormous task of bringing some order to this chaos.
Notre Dame University