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Thanks Jim and Daniel for your willingness to tear away at our longest standing point of contention — the future need of possession to define what we do as librarians, especially government information librarians.
This thoughtful and flexible intellectual exchange continues to be a booster shot of optimism that librarians will still ground their arguments not only in the rhetoric of advocacy, but also from serious intellectual foundations that frame our daily practice. This is why I enjoy the Thomas Mann articles so much….
And, no, I do not think we will convince one another to switch sides. But that is not necessarily the point. Think of it this way — it takes at least two notes (or tones) to make accessible music. I would like to think our two points of frame a greater spectrum of possibilities for our profession. When I speak of a duality in formats, I do not see it as a zero sum proposition — rather I see a series of librarian centric choices being made based on what librarians see as the principal purpose of their institutions. Which — may or may not — be the same as their community of users or other groups with different goals and interests n the same problems.
The best book I read on this was written by Patrick Williams — The American Public Library and the Problem of Purpose. 1988, New York: Greenwood Press.
The world wide web — even with all its flexibility and fragility — enables to us to explore a new kind of government information librarianship, but not at the cost of more traditional forms. Possession remains a critical component in this, but is no longer a social good that is dominated the dominion of libraries. Yes the governments are taking back their possession of information sources through the digital media and e government services. And yes, under the Gutenberg traditions and technologies, this physical possession was more distributed among the social and economic classes because of the physical characteristics of the paper and print book.
But you can also see this kind of distributed shared possession showing up in the digital world — for instance — with many other web sites capturing the lost or deleted pages of change.gov. What rankles us as government information librarians is that we perceive this act of preservation to be better done through rational and centralized functions of our governments. It is a public good that deserves a proactive public preservation. And it rankles us so much that for the past hundred years we have recreated thousands of smaller and localized variations of what we think the government should be doing. I have no problem with this argument, and will remain as vocal and full-throated in my rhetoric as anyone in the defense of libraries and their righteous place as critical institutions in our democracy and civic culture.
What I do argue for us to seriously consider as our next century project, however, is a form of government information librarianship (and librarianship in general) that exists regardless of the format or technologies. My favorite question I love to pose for my library graduate students runs something like this — Can doctor still be a doctor without a hospital? They usually answer — of course. Can you be a lawyer with out a courthouse? Again — affirmative. Now the money shot — Can you be a librarian without a library? Dead silence.
What I am trying to do here is tease out for them the critical intellectual and fundamental things we do in that wonderfully complex exchange of knowledge among individuals and their institutions of government. Possession of material might have once been central to that purpose. And in the case of some of our institutions (even depository libraries) that command and control might still be in play. But I also strongly suspect that much more intellectual effort and research will be needed in order to build a community of theory and practice that imagines a world where this idea of possession is much less exclusive or destiny for any one institution.
Now we are getting somewhere…
See you on Day 59