September 04, 2008
Assumptions about Library's Roles in Disasters
I just spent the last week and a bit working on one blog post about "What Assumptions From Now Are Shaping the Future of Librarianship?". (What slowed me down was that my computer crashed 6 times in 4 days, and required me to rebuild my lost work each time.) Here is the blog post I was working on.
Questions to Ask about Librarianship and the Future: Thoughts about the Ithaka and Portico Reports: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/hsldir/archives/2008/09/questions_to_as.html
Basically, while the blog post is about some recent reports looking at professional trends, my perspective came from a few personal experiences.
I was on a committee with faculty, staff, and administrators to look into planning and preparations for potential disasters. During the various meetings and discussions, it became clear that there were a number of assumptions at various levels about how local libraries would support the community during disasters.
Patron Assumption #1:
All academic libraries keep basic reference materials in both print and electronic, so everyone will always have access to the core important information even if one library gets smashed in a disaster.
Patron Assumption #2:
Local public libraries aren't expected to keep everything when there is a strong academic research library in the area. Of course, the academic library and the public library collaborate and talk about who is keeping what, so we don't have to worry about it - they've already done that.
Patron Assumption #3:
I don't personally have to worry about keeping anything as long as it is in the library, because the library will always have it.
Patron Assumption #4:
For the really important stuff, the library has it in a variety of formats. After all, there was that Ohio backout, and Katrina, and 9/11 - we know that we can't always get to the electronic. Not to even mention the digital divide, or that some folks have tech of physical problems that prevent them from using one media or another. The library is going to have the Good Stuff in electronic, and print, and maybe other media as well.
These assumptions are very flattering, in a way. People were happy with what we were doing, and beyond even just respecting us as professionals, they thought the librarians had thought of everything in advance and were doing everything necessary to take care of everything. Pretty comprehensively. Hmmmm.
Having some concerns about these assumptions, I went back and started to talk these over with friends and colleagues and administrators. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the librarians had corresponding but different assumptions.
Academic Librarian Assumption #1:
We primarily support the day-to-day needs of our immediate patrons (faculty, staff, students of our institution, and alumni, to a different extent), focusing on what is needed for their core functions of education and research. Everything over that is gravy, extra - not required.
Academic Librarian Assumption #2:
Public libraries have the primary responsibility for providing and preserving any materials that would be needed by the local community. We love our public library, but there really isn't much overlap.
Academic Librarian Assumption #3:
If you as an individual think there is something you can't live without, you should keep a copy for yourself.
Academic Librarian Assumption #4:
Electronic-only is perfectly fine, since the Ohio blackout was a blip and will never happen again. We will never be without power for more than a day, and will never have a crisis where we need information that is only available in electronic format. Besides, we kept backups on CD or DVD locked in a dark archive somewhere. We'll be able to get to those if we really need it.
OK, now I am oversimplifying both perspectives here. I am not directly quoting anyone. At this point, I am not presenting proposals for any solutions, merely presenting a possible problem arising from different communities having different assumptions about who is doing what and who is responsible for doing what. Remember this little ditty?
"This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done."
If there are these kinds of misunderstandings in this area, are there other assumptions about the profession that are not being addressed in our decisionmaking for the future and for which the profession could later be blamed? Do we need to better communicate this type of context in our decisionmaking? Personally, I have an interest in how new technologies are being used to prepare and respond to disasters, with the flip side of the coin being when new technologies are NOT appropriate for these functions. I'll be blogging more on those topics. With the broader questions and context raised here, I don't know what the solution is, but am hoping there will be more of a discussion about these types of issues.
Posted by pfa at September 4, 2008 10:01 AM
Are you familiar with the initiatives out of the National Library of Medicine? They've made disaster planning a key element in the longrange plan that they published last year. Some details can be found here: http://nnlm.gov/ep/
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org at September 4, 2008 01:46 PM
Yes, I do, and am hugely enthusiastic about it. This is actually (hopefully) a lead in to more related thoughts. This just primes the pump for that discussion, I hope. :)
Posted by: pfa at September 4, 2008 03:11 PMLogin to leave a comment. Create a new account.