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Promises, Promises…

Following up on yesterday’s post about Another Google Search going away:

Gary Price notes that Google had promised an archive of Twitter posts and that Google has recently removed another service:

I find it significant when for-profit companies develop products and then take them offline or when they fail to deliver on promised products. I don’t begrudge them the right to do this and I’m not surprised when they do. I find it significant, though, when libraries rely heavily on such services, particularly when they replace services and collections that libraries have traditionally provided to their user communities. Libraries always rely on commercial products, of course, from the old print volumes of Readers’ Guide to fancy online abstracting and indexing services. But there is a difference between using such products to supplement and enhance services and collections and using them to replace services and collections. When libraries decrease their own services and minimize their own locally-controlled collections and act as little more than a gateway to commercial services, they do their user communities no favors.

There is a lot being written about the role of libraries in the digital age and a lot of libraries are seemingly content to “let someone else do it.” When libraries give up to publishers and for-profit companies the traditional library roles of selecting, acquiring, organizing, providing access to and services for information, and (libraries hope) preserving that information, they are abrogating their essential role, their defining characteristics. Such decisions will surely weaken libraries as an institution. But what about their user-communities? Such decisions leave the communities at the mercy of private companies and the marketplace and without a say in what information is important to them.

IBM, a big company that has had its ups and downs, pointed out recently:

Nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared. Of the top 25 industrial corporations in the United States in 1900, only two remained on that list at the start of the 1960s. And of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1961, only six remain there today.

How does an organization outlive its founder?,
by marty kelly, IBM Smart Camp blog (June 16, 2011).

This isn’t surprising. What is profitable comes and goes. What is important for a user community shouldn’t be left to the whims of the marketplace; it should be in control of the community through its own institutions. When we consider the information that is important to a user community, that institution is, by definition, the library. Then promises can be made by — and kept by — the community itself.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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