Library philosophy: the essay(s) that won’t be written

A couple of times, when I’ve expressed frustration over failing in providing something I thought was of real value to libraries (e.g., the series of events that have led me to give up on public library projects in general), my wife–who has been an academic library director, public library cataloger/head of cataloging and more–has suggested:

“Maybe the library world has moved on. Maybe you should do the same. I’m sure the Livermore Friends of the Library could use your help.”

What she’s suggesting is anywhere from cutting back to dropping this stuff entirely.

I’m certainly not ready to do the latter, at least not yet.

On the other hand…

adding value

An ongoing issue for any of my writing and research is that it should add value to the field.

There’s two pieces to that: actually doing something that hasn’t been done before, and (enough) people in the field regarding what I do as valuable.

there’s no value if there’s no perception of value

That’s another way to put it. Apparently only a few dozen public libraries/librarians thought my first “Give Us a Buck” effort was valuable…and essentially none thought the second effort was worth even a sawbuck.

Was I doing something that hadn’t been done before? Yes. Was it actually worthwhile–did it actually add value? Apparently not.

which brings us back to library philosophy

After I finished up Cites & Insights 14:7 (entirely original content, and I hope that it’s regarded as added value, but we shall see…) and took a day off entirely, I looked at the kind of thing I mostly do in C&I–that is, take a set of other people’s essays that I’ve given the same tag in Diigo, look them over again, and construct a useful narrative out of the citations and my comments.

Looking over my Diigo library–as of June 10, right around 1,750 tags for (I”d guess) around 1,550-1,600 items–I concluded two things:

  1. I should proceed with Ethics and Access 3, the catchall set of stories that adds to the first two essays.
  2. I should look at some of the tags and see whether I still believe I’m likely to add value

the first of those is in progress

and going reasonably well, I think. The draft is probably halfway done. It should be a half-issue essay, maybe 8,000 to 10,000 words, and more of a mosaic than either of the first two.

the second…well, here comes library philosophy again

The most frequently used tag in my Diigo library as of June 10, 2014 was “lib-phil,” one of 19 or 20 “lib-” tags. It had 133 items, accumulated over the last four years.

Using my typical methods, that’s not one essay: it would yield about 66,000 words, give or take 15,000, which is at least two and probably three issues. (C&I 14.7 is 17,322 words long; C&I 14.4 and 14.5 together are 55,600 words.)

That’s not important: After all, the Ethics triptych became a three-parter because there were too many items for one essay and I found I could split them easily enough into two neat essays and one mosaic.

What is important, however: I was no longer especially confident that I would be adding any significant value other than “here’s a bunch of neat things you may have forgotten” (and “here’s a bunch of things I disagree with and why I disagree with them”).

I’m not a librarian, either academic or public (or school or special). Pace Chris Bourg, I’m not even a feral librarian: I haven’t worked in a library since 1979, and never worked in a librarianlike role.

I’m not a library philosopher–or, rather, that really is a case where the library world has moved on and I no longer believe I should be trying to influence its overall direction. (I’m not sure I ever really did: Neither Balanced Libraries nor Future Libraries was, in my opinion, a real attempt to change the course of library philosophy so much as to avoid what I regarded as unfortunate course changes.)

going through the articles

So, after writing about half of the Ethics and Access essay, I started going through the lib-phil items, a few at a time. I read part or all of (most of) the items (not all: about one-third had evaporated in the way of the web).

And I either assigned a new tag for a topic where I still thought, perhaps, I could add significant value, or I deleted the tag.

I just finished that process. Two items were retagged (one already had a secondary tag). The rest–131 of them–are gone.

realistic, not sad; one choice, not an overall decision

I found it interesting to reread some of these posts, columns and essays, especially those more than a year old. I read most of the comments as well. (I will admit that I did not make it all the way through two or three posts in the blog/journal hybrid I alternate between admiring and wanting to avoid.)

I also found that–in nearly all the cases–I honestly didn’t think that Walt Crawford had anything especially valuable to add to the stories; that this particular train had left the station.

That’s realistic. It’s not sad.

This was also one choice–the most heavily-populated tag.

It may be a partial decision (I’m less and less likely to believe that pontificating about What Libraries Should Be is a valuable use of my time and energy, either for me or for anyone else–which, of course, won’t stop me from commenting in various social spaces). I’ll look at the other 18-19 “lib-” tags carefully and skeptically.

I noticed the extent to which a few writers kept popping up, and at some point said to myself, “If Chris Bourg or Barbara Fister or Wayne Bivens-Tatum want to do essay collections, that’s up to them.” I dunno whether any or all of them will (there are one or two other names and one pseudonym, but these are the three most obvious cases), but in any case I found myself with little to add other than “Still good stuff. Go read it.” (WBT made things easier by deleting perhaps half of the essays I would have considered. That’s his choice.)

what’s next?

Dunno. I haven’t decided to stop writing, not yet, not entirely.

One minor anecdote: Until two hours before I prepared the final PDFs, the date for C&I 14.7 was July/August 2014, an express statement that I was going to take it easy.

I finally decided that this was pointless. The publication’s already irregular. I don’t intend for Volume 14 to have anything close to as many pages as Volumes 12 and 13, but I expect it will have more pages than Volume 11. (Respectively, 11, 12, and 13 total 274, 394 and 398 pages. Volume 14 to date totals 202 pages–so even four 20-page issues would take it past Volume 11.)

Partly things will depend on whether there’s any additional support or sponsorship for C&I (three supporters to date: count them, three). Partly things will depend on how recent essays are received and whether I believe they’re having any useful impact. Partly things will depend on whether the (slightly delayed at ALA) Library Technology Reports issue is well-received (and maybe generates at least a few sales of the related book!).

Partly things will depend on going through more of these tag lists, seeing what still makes me feel there’s something worth saying, and seeing where that winds up.

The local Friends group? Yeah, I might get involved (which probably means spending a couple of hours a week helping out at the bookstore). That doesn’t preclude other writing, of course; just cutting back and refocusing.

for that matter, the blog might come back to life

There haven’t been many non-announcement posts. That might change. Maybe.

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