What's love got to do with it? further thoughts on libraries and collections
Rick Anderson, in his Ithaka S+R "Issue Brief" paper, Can’t Buy Us Love: The Declining Importance of Library Books and the Rising Importance of Special Collections, proposes a radically different vision of the future of libraries in which libraries cede the organization, preservation, and curation of large areas of the information landscape to individuals and the private sector.
I just finished reading Rick Anderson's Ithaka S+R issue brief "'Can't Buy Us Love:' The Declining Importance of Library Books and the Rising Importance of Special Collections." it is not the most articulate argument for the future of libraries, but it certainly may be the best eulogy.
Anderson's perspective bothered me so much that I jotted down a few thoughts to ponder in response. I wanted to post as a comment but it ran a little longer than Ithaka allows on their site. By all means, read Anderson's piece, and then my comments below. I'd love to hear what our readers think.
Full citation: "'Can't Buy Us Love:' The Declining Importance of Library Books and the Rising Importance of Special Collections." Ithaka S+R Issue Brief. August 1, 2013. Rick Anderson, Interim Dean & University Librarian, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.
Here are a few thoughts to ponder:
As FGI readers know, Ithaka S + R’s final FDLP modeling report is available on the FDLP Desktop. GPO deemed the final report “unacceptable under the terms of the contract.” But since an entire day of the fall Federal Depository Library Conference will be devoted to the discussion, "Creating Our Shared Vision: Roles and Opportunities in the FDLP,” I thought I’d slog through the 245 page report, as best I could.
I’m not far along in my reading, and can’t yet comment on the whole, but I’m already disagreeing in part. In particular, I was disappointed that a section, on which I commented in the draft stage, still mischaracterizes legal materials.
On page 33, the report states:
Law libraries and the court system have a significant but concentrated interest in federal government documents. Their overall collections are often heavily focused in three key categories: current and historical statutes and the US Code; current and historical versions of the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations; and court decisions. Other materials – including contextual materials such as the Congressional Record, which supports the investigation of legislative histories – may also be of significant value to some users of these collections. Legal scholars and law students use these materials in a variety of ways, including for research projects, journal editing, and in the preparation of court submissions. For judicial purposes in particular, these materials are essential records of the operation of the federal government, in many ways more like archival documents than general-interest publications.
Just in this one paragraph, I have several concerns. First, administrative decisions are left out. Academic law libraries’ government documents collections are focused on statutes, regulations, court decisions (judicial branch), and administrative decisions (executive branch). Administrative decisions are among the most challenging documents to collect and manage, but there is not a law school in the country that doesn’t care about them.
Second, the public is left out. Self-represented litigants, historians, social science researchers, high school debaters, and citizen-advocates use legal materials. The focus on “legal scholars and law students” limits the mission of law libraries, when in fact, our mission – and patron base - is often quite broad.
Third, the word “archival” was left in. I objected to the use of “archival” during the drafting process and I object to it now. The law – the law that governs all of us – is a general-interest publication. The law is a growing and changing body, which does make it hard to characterize. Patrons need “current” law, but sometimes the “current” law is five, ten, or fifty years old. To say “archival” misses the point, and actually minimizes the importance of a collection of legal materials.
We don’t have every volume of the Code of Federal Regulations back to 1938 because the colors look lovely on the shelves. We keep them because patrons – all types of patrons – need and want a “snapshot in time.” For example, if you are suing a polluter, you would need to know if the polluter was actually in compliance with the environment regulations at the time it polluted. Or, if you were convicted of a crime in the past, and now are applying for a change in your immigration status, you would need to know if the crime was a felony at the time of the conviction.
We exhort our patrons to update their research, to make sure they aren’t relying on a law that has been amended or overturned. At the same time, we assist patrons in finding the law as it existed when a particular action or crime occurred.
Law libraries are special libraries, much like engineering or health sciences libraries. Legal research may require specialized collections, tools, and assistance, but the law itself isn’t special. It belongs to all of us. I can’t think of a better definition of a “general-interest publication” than that.
As reported here earlier, GPO rejected the Ithaka S+R report on the future of the Federal Depository Library Program (Modeling a Sustainable Future for the United States Federal Depository Library Program's Network of Libraries in the 21st Century: Final Report of Ithaka S+R to the Government Printing Office, by Ross Housewright & Roger C. Schonfeld, Ithaka S+R, May 16, 2011).
Here is coverage by Information Today of that rejection :
- GPO Disapproves of Report on the Future of Federal Depository Libraries, by Barbie E. Keiser, Information Today, (August 25, 2011).
Although this article mentions that GPO might ask Ithaka S+R to "fix" the report, I didn't find anything in the statement by Mary Alice Baish attached to the report that indicates that GPO will ask anything more from Ithaka S+R. Rather, Baish says GPO will use the report, and comments submitted during the writing of the report, and new comments that it hopes to get now to build practical and sustainable models for the FDLP.
From an FDLP E-Mail:
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) has received the final report from Ithaka S + R (Ithaka), who was contracted to develop practical and sustainable models for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). GPO appreciates the comments that were submitted by members of our community during Ithaka’s study of the FDLP. We plan to build on these comments as we continue our future visioning and modeling process.
GPO has reproduced an archived version of the Ithaka study Web site in PDF format on the FDLP Desktop and has posted the previously released draft documents, public comments, and final modeling report to GPO. We look forward to obtaining comments and feedback from more participants in our depository library network. We plan to use these comments as part of the foundation to build on as we continue our future visioning and modeling process.
The deadline for submission of comments is September 16, 2011.
Comments submitted through this site will be made available on the FDLP Desktop in preparation for the Thursday, October 20, 2011 day-long discussion, "Creating Our Shared Vision: Roles and Opportunities in the FDLP." We also encourage you to join us for the Fall 2011 Federal Depository Library Conference and DLC Meeting.