The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges

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New Internet technologies make possible an alternative to the top—down structure of catalogues. A folksonomy is the outcome of user tagging, whereby users label material in a way that makes sense to the user. One major disadvantage of user tagging through online services — such as Library Thing www. The questions of whether the Library of Congress should abandon its subject headings in favor of keywords and whether public libraries should follow bookstores rather than Dewey in arranging their shelves should also be seen as part of this debate about the role of libraries in the organisation of information.

Librarians themselves are keenly involved in these debates. For example, there has been a heated debate among the library profession about the virtues of the traditional catalogue and the limitations of Google Mann, ; Herring, As the following indicates, the advent of the Internet has resulted in changes in the nature of information—seeking and information—provision.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology Web site www. An OCLC study, conducted in , found that ease of use, convenience and accessibility were as important as information quality and trustworthiness in choosing amongst electronic information sources OCLC, These included newspapers and magazines, film, TV and video, packaged software, recorded music, books, online information services, computer games and consumer directories Mercer, In , Web 2. These changes in the nature of information search and online information provision need to be better understood in order for the library to provide services appropriate to the twenty—first century.

There have been many fine—grained studies undertaken on what sort of search terms people type into search engines if they are researching a particular topic, how their eye travels down a Web page of search results and so on Bar—Ilan, et al. However, existing research does not relate social context to practices and values around information search nor investigate how these have changed with the advent of the Internet.

Statistics on the use of search engines and wikipedia are often quoted as evidence of the decreasing relevance of the library in providing information to searchers for example, OCLC, ; CIBER, However, while such statistics do demonstrate changes in information search, the interpretation disregards the multifarious nature of information search. Both anecdotal evidence and preliminary analysis of online searches suggests that the small amount of effort expended in using a search engine means that a multitude of additional searches are being undertaken that are of little consequence to the searcher.

Almost immediately, I retrieve 50, search results and hardly need to glance at the first of these to see that it was Alan Hale, Jr.

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I am momentarily satisfied, and then return to what I was doing. Without the resource of the Internet, I would have finished my conversation without giving Skipper another thought. Obviously, IM, SMS and e—mail can be used for communications that mean quite a lot to the sender or recipient, but the fact of communication tells us nothing about its significance.

In terms of significance, the searcher may be idly searching as in the example above. In terms of the level of information sought, it may be facts, an understanding of an experience or conceptual understanding. Significance and purpose are in the eye of the searcher, so it is not possible to deduce the significance or purpose of a search on the basis of the search term.

Interview with Jessamyn West: The challenges facing today's libraries & librarians

Figure 1 depicts the library as just one amongst a multitude of different types of information sources, most of which have arisen in the last 10 years. Of particular relevance when analyzing the role of the library, given these information sources, are issues of accessibility, reliability, validity and authority of content, and potential or actual conflict between commercial interests and the public good.

With regard to accessibility, it should be borne in mind that slightly less than half 46 percent of Australians are assessed as below the minimum literacy requirement for operating competently in the knowledge economy Australian Bureau of Statistics, An often overlooked point regarding accessibility is the way that information is structured. Providing search results through an algorithm is very different from using a highly structured environment such as the Dewey decimal system.

The implications of these different structures of provision for accessibility of content for different types of search have not been researched. The rapid development of digital media and online services has three particular consequences for the strategic decision—making of major public libraries and the implementation of major policy statements such as The Big Bang. The first is that libraries operate within an increasingly complex and cross—portfolio policy environment. With such demands, the question of sustainability has been increasingly pressing for cultural institutions over the past decade or so, but resolution is more likely to be found in areas of public entrepreneurship, partnership and innovation than expectations of increased public outlays.

The second consequence is the development of a digital economy that defies standard economic analysis. Marginal cost pricing for some forms of information provision is driven down to near zero, challenging conventional market failure arguments underpinning the public funding of cultural institutions Anderson, The third consequence is that libraries must reconcile different timescales in making strategic and resource decisions.

However the role of major libraries as cultural storehouses and information commons operates on an extended timescale and is connected more directly with institutional and social values than program or audience concerns. The SLV has, like many library counterparts, sought to assess the value of its services in the interests of public accountability and in putting a funding case to government. However, a growing literature points to both methodological difficulties in this area and the wisdom of privileging economic arguments in seeking public funds Berryman, ; Hutter and Throsby, A number of authors have argued for the development of value assessments that recognize the long—term, qualitative outcomes of cultural institutions in place of metrics tied to short—term quantitative outcomes and electoral cycles Scott, Such a framework has also proved elusive, particularly in an era when governments are urged to reinvent themselves through market emulation.

Some cultural institutions have adapted the U.

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Moore argued that public institutions should be responsive to both individual and collective aspirations, to expectations of efficiency and effectiveness, as well as justice and fairness. However, this strategy bears a remarkable similarity to the pamphleteering of earlier advocates for cultural institutions. It also bears interesting comparison with recent publications by cultural commentators McCarthy, et al.

In the library domain, the scale of technological change and the looming presence of commercial forces, from subscription databases to Google, introduce further reasons to adopt a policy framework which effectively combines service delivery and wider public good attributes. The TAIGA provocation that all information discovery will begin at Google TAIGA Forum Steering Committee, threatens to sharpen the contrast between the high level of public trust and low level of use that characterizes public cultural institutions.

Yet, to paraphrase McMaster [ 13 ], the biggest risk to libraries is to take no risks at all. As early adopters of information technologies and networked organisation, libraries have proven adaptive institutions in changing technological environments. In the twenty—first century, public libraries need the support of a policy environment that recognizes their central role in the preservation and access of public information and cultural memory, in all its forms.

The paradox of digital information — infinitely reproducible but inherently unstable — requires the sophisticated use of digital technologies and networks. Large public libraries are multi-faceted and busy institutions, located at a major policy intersection where information, culture, technology and the economy converge.

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While we have suggested that the current period may have earlier parallels, especially in the development of electronic media, there is little doubt that the scale and pace of change associated with digital technologies requires a major re—appraisal of library policy and service environments. We have argued in this paper that library planning should be informed by a sound understanding of how the ecology and economy of information is changing. We have described some of these changes and indicated the need for more research into them. In particular, we have noted that while there are numerous fine—grained studies on how people interact with search engines, there is a lack of research on the social practices and values around information search.

We have also discussed a requirement for libraries to articulate their distinctive public good role, especially at a time when they appear to be competing with online commercial enterprises. It is unsurprising that library policy and program development proceeds ahead of research, especially in rapidly changing service environments.

Large public libraries such as the State Library of Victoria, have a vanguard role in shaping sectoral policy Joint and Wallis, , suggesting the relevance of such research to local branch libraries as well.

The authors are currently engaged with the State Library of Victoria in a major research project titled The Searchers. This will help to address the current research gap identified in this paper. However, as indicated, the usefulness of data yielded by this project will be enhanced by development of a library policy framework that clarifies and re—evaluates institutional goals. This policy framework should also bring coherence to diverse and sometimes conflicting policy demands. Rapidly changing technological and service settings make this task difficult, yet urgent. Rather than perceiving the digital era solely in terms of paradigmatic change, a focus on the enduring values of libraries may, ultimately, assist libraries in making the most beneficial use of digital technologies.

She has a research interest in information and the social aspects of technology use.

He has research interests in public policy, cultural heritage and public infrastructure. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the State Library of Victoria. Large public libraries are defined here as libraries that provide collection and reference services at state provincial or national levels. Question from OCLC, As mentioned before, the results of this question were that ease of use, convenience and accessibility were as important as information quality and trustworthiness.

Chris Anderson, Australian Parliament. Australia as an information society: Grasping new paradigms.

The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America Issues and Challenges

Canberra: AGPS. Paul T. Katz, Elizabeth J. Decoster, and Kim M. Jaeger, Charles R. Obama, B. Aaron Smith, Home Broadband Swan, D. Scotto, J. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Natalie Greene Taylor, Paul T. Jaeger, Abigail J. So now I just classify everything as African-American, and the branches are pretty cool with that. We try to go by what it says in the back of the book, or what the publisher says. Some of the categories the branches have used are urban fiction; African-American nonfiction, African-American biography, African-American history.

There are only two ways we order books: either the Central Library orders from the system for the branches from the selection list , or branches can order from bookstores at their discretion, although not from online. We do buy the African-American popular authors who come out with e-book versions. I buy from OverDrive [the library digital distributor] and Access Each reference department is given a small annual e-book budget.

James Boyd Jones: Atlanta has interesting communities. We have 32 branches and a bookmobile. A few years ago we changed from a decentralized system, where each branch makes its own selection, to a centralized one. Previously, we allowed each branch to handle its own selection and its own budget, and we noticed that at the end of the year there would be money left on the table.

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We keep up with the procurement process and expenditures, and make the best decisions. We can spend money from December to August. I come up with a spending plan and keep my eyes on the money. I make the selections and get input from the branches. Brodart is the only vendor we have right now. Sometimes our patrons are more up on things than we are, so we have a secondary vendor, Enrichment Book Store Art Center, who provides books that are out-of-print or no longer in stock.

Our county government requires that we have at least one minority vendor. Between Brodart and our secondary vendor, we are pretty well covered.

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We take very seriously what our patrons have to say. They are taxpayers and keep our doors open. We were always concerned that books represent the population. We developed book lists; invited authors and illustrators who looked like America; let librarians know who the authors were; sat on awards committees; were active in the social literary world, present at social events.

So we were not in some office; we were really about making sure those books were in the hands of the public to interpret for themselves. We have over 45, volumes of print and nonprint items.