Reflections on the Foundational Readings

I will compare these readings with this question in mind: what are the best ways to improve library service. I will also discuss these readings in light of the history of the San Francisco Public Library.

Of the three readings, Buckland has the most balanced analysis of the changes taking place in libraries. His background is in academic libraries, while Casey and  Savastinuk work in a public library. They, as well as Lankes, have backgrounds in technology as well as in library information science.

Buckland describes what was a revolutionary change in libraries in 1997: combining the catalog and bibliographic record. With the migration of library materials to electronic formats, he predicts that library catalogs will be regional and cooperative instead of local.

He also recognizes the need for librarians to educate patrons in using electronic resources, and that the electronic library requires expertise for successful use. And he also notes one disadvantage of technology is that it requires depending on equipment “that is much more prone to obsolescence than that of a Paper Library”(The Challenge. p. 3) and that the electronic library requires expertise for successful use. He concludes that “Library services from now on will have to provide access to paper documents and to electronic documents based on their users’ needs” and that library planners should assume that libraries will evolve into a combination of the automated and electronic libraries.

Buckland is prescient in saying that “over time significant and increasing amounts of of older material will become available as electronic documents”(The Electronic Library p. 3). Within the last five or so years, San Francisco Public Library has converted many historical photographs to electronic photographs. The Civic Center Branch of the Marin County Free Library has also converted its collection of historical photographs to electronic ones, while the Mill Valley Public Library is doing the same.

Buckland makes a broader distinction between the way public and private organizations function. He says that “Manufacturing organizations…tend to function differently from service organizations” (Organization and Implementation, p. 1). However Casey and Savastinuk do not distinguish between these two types of organizations.They use corporate language, including words derived from commercial discourse, such as “brand,” and also make analogies between the ways that businesses and libraries function. They add that “Libraries, whether they want to believe it or not, are governed by many of the same rules as local retailers” (Library 2.0 p. 64). However private companies and public libraries have very different missions. Public libraries are funded by public money and their main goal is to provide  quality service to their users. Corporations’ main goal, on the other hand, is to make a profit. Providing good customer service is only a secondary goal.

Another point with which I disagree is that they advocate that library managers move staff around. They say “It is in a library’s best interest to acknowledge the positive aspects of staffing relocations and transfers”(Library 2.0 p.40). Personally, I think these transfers are a violation of individual and worker’s rights, especially when the individual who is transferred is doing a good job. They do, however support a vertical organization in libraries over a horizontal one, a point with which I agree.

However, Casey and Savistinuk make a valuable contribution to providing quality library service in Chapter 4, where  they provide practical information on how to set up new library services. The steps they describe are part of an effective strategy which includes deciding whether the service is feasible, creating a plan, and evaluating the new service. They add that “Customer feedback and staff input from all levels are imperative…”(Library 2.0 p.57).

Lanke in  Participatory Networks: The Library as Conversation also adds some good points about quality library services. He criticizes library catalogs because they do not allow feedback from users. While catalogs, like Marinet for the Marin County libraries provide biographical information and links to periodicals, it does not provide the same avenues for user feedback as web sites like Amazon.com.

History of the San Francisco Public Library in light of the readings

At the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), a struggle between library managers and line staff and members of the community over the direction of library service  shaped the last seventeen years, since the new main library opened in 1996. This struggle is related to some of the ideas in Buckland, Casey and Savistinuk. One of the first struggles was over books versus technology in the new main. When the new main opened, author Nicholson Baker accused the city librarian, Ken Dowlin, of a crime against the past for ordering library staff to weed hundreds of thousands of books. Another battle occurred after the new main opened over keeping the old card catalog. Though the new main had an online public access catalog (OPAC), users flocked to library commission meeting expressing angst over losing access to the card catalog. Some argued that seniors would not be able to use the OPAC. Others said that the OPAC was incomplete. Five years later, another fight between City Librarian, Susan Hildreth, and the Librarian’s Guild occurred over whether the library should hire a collection agency to fine patrons for lost or overdue materials. The city librarian said the collection agency was economically necessary, while the union argued it was an unacceptable form of privatization.

Progress

Seventeen years after the new main opened, SFPL has become a more participatory organization than in the past. Some local newspaper articles describe the changes at SFPL. The library web site lists a variety of programs for different age groups. Recently, the New York Times published an interview with the city librarian, Louis Herrera, about the close connection between SFPL and the surrounding community.

References

Buckland, Michael. Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto. (Available entirely online at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Library/Redesigning/html.html)
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today. (Michael will provide access)
Lankes, R. D., Silverstein, J., & Nicholson, S. (January 01, 2007). Participatory Networks: The Library As Conversation. Information Technology and Libraries, 26,4, 17. (Pre-pub version available here: http://quartz.syr.edu/rdlankes/Publications/Journals/COLISFinal-v7.pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on the Foundational Readings

One thought on “Reflections on the Foundational Readings

  1. michael says:

    The framework of this post – reflections on readings aligned with your experience at SFPL – makes for an interesting and informative read.

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