On Being Wise Stewards...
President of LITA and Dean of Library Services
MICHAEL Gorman's speech centered around the notion of stewardship. This term derived from the Old English word that combined "house" and "warden," or he who is responsible for the safety and organization of a home (or by extension, community). The King James version of the Bible suggests that a steward provides something of value for future generations.
Librarians as stewards need to be conscious of three areas:
Gorman noted that one of the qualities librarians lost in the current obsession with "techno-babble" is their value in preserving the human record for following generations. The historical role of libraries is being ignored. Librarians and archivists (in the same church) have a unique role in transmitting culture. If our culture was available only in digital format, the resulting crisis would be momentous.
He narrated the changes made to culture when the world moved from script to print after Gutenberg's invention of movable type. The printing press did a number of things to written records, including standardization of the document, increased dissemination of documents, and a format that was both fixed and durable. In a digital culture, on the other hand, you have multiple, variable copies of documents, extensive distribution, but they are in a completely unfixed, non-durable format. While tempting to view progress as occurring in a nice linear curve, each new innovation is proving less durable than that which came before. He spoke of the symbiotic relationship between reputable authors and publishers and educated readers, each of whom contributed to the overall health of the triangle. The mutability of electronic documents, and the murkiness of an author's intent (Opinion? Fact?) pose large problems. He noted that the only proven method for preserving culture is to use good paper, provide multiple copies, and store carefully.
He listed a variety of materials: books and journals, manuscripts, optical disks, music scores, sound recordings, films and videos, microforms, and digital resources. Many have improved in their durability but are dependent on devices which are required to "read" them, and these devices change rapidly. In particular, digital resources create many problems and give few solutions.
He questioned librarians' unwillingness to provide judgment on what to preserve, noting as an exception how well children's librarians do with selecting quality children's literature, Many librarians shy from judgment based on fears of accusations of censorship.
He provided three strategies for dealing with the Internet:
He bemoaned our overall lack of assertiveness in our profession, perhaps our only major flaw.
He went on to comment on the present disastrous nature of the curriculum being offered at library schools. Many schools have dropped "library" from their titles, and many seem caught in the movement between a traditionally female-dominated service ethic and a male-dominated computer culture. ALA accreditation is so loose as to be a farce, and schools cannot provide professionals with education in professional core values the way medical and legal schools do. He opined that there is no such thing as "information science." Those who employ new librarians will increasingly have to examine very closely the candidates' curriculum in graduate school to determine if candidates have good grounding in library skills and values.
He stated that accreditation is at the heart of a profession's identity, and that the practice of good stewardship demands that graduate schools must be revivified.
If we are to succeed, we must do three things:
Ned Lee Fielden
San Francisco State University