Monday, March 10, 2008

Discussions for 11 Mar 2008

Article 1
Leigh’s article pieces discuss the future of public library function and action from a 1950 perspective. Interestingly, the report was not done by the library itself; rather, the ALA contracted the Social Science Research Council to do so in order to gain a more objective and independent judgment. In the prose and setup of the article, there is definitely a noted difference in their approach opposed to many of the articles we have read from an internal library perspective. The Public Library Inquiry aims to evaluate the library’s success in terms of its own goals as well as their aptness within the framework of American social and cultural institutions. The author proposes increased funding and bureaucratic organization to better run the library in the coming decade.

(1) In discussing the alternate directions proposed by some librarians in the beginning of part II, Leigh presents a tension between catering to public demand and providing “valuable” information and resources to society. How do you think the public library has handled this balance since 1950, and do you agree with the study’s suggestions on pp. 234-5? (On a more personal note for us: are collections of video games and popular music in College Library warranted? Does this detract from the purpose of collegiate libraries?) Why (not)?
(2) Wisconsin’s share of public library systems costs is 8.1% and the 2007-2009 proposed budget aims to maintain this level. Do you think the state, based on Leigh’s analysis, has a higher obligation to contribute to the financial aid of libraries or are other pressing issues more important? How should the government appropriate funds to their public library institutions?
(3) In his general summation of the library’s future, Leigh remarks that the library “would provide people of all ages in all places in the U.S. with abundant opportunity to learn so far as library materials can give that opportunity.” Based on historical context and our previous readings, do you think the library truly catered to this goal, or was it more geared toward the middle-class white population?

Article 2
In this article, Bush proposes potential new paths for peacetime physicists to follow. No longer able to focus on the more war-related elements of physics, they are now encouraged by Bush to use their skills for the maintenance and retention of stored knowledge. Focusing on “the record,” physicists can use technology to find innovative ways of information storage (microfilm), transcription (like the Voder and Vocoder), performing mathematics, and effective means of research. While not all of Bush’s article concentrates directly on the library, his methods and applications definitely transfer over to library processes and ways to manage information and collections, most importantly in how to preserve access to such information. Through Bush, the library and scientific communities merge, lending themselves to one another.

(1) Discussing photography and its potential use in microfilm records, Bush suggests something that could clear space in the library rendering hard copy books, magazines, newspapers, etc. almost unnecessary. Obviously, microfilm today is not the technological innovation of the century to revolutionize library storage, but might the Internet have a similar effect? Does this outlet of information threaten the necessity of such hard copies as well? Why or why not?
(2) Bush mentions the difficulty of actually being able to consult “the record” (for libraries – their collections and resources), but the librarian is a professional who can maneuver through such complicating records and collections. If physicists are able to simplify this process for the common library patron, how might this affect the role of the librarian?
(3) Based on all of Bush’s suggestions, what do you think is technology’s role in the library? How has the Memex from 1945 come into the contemporary library?

Article 3
Pennavaria, in her article, discusses the future of the library and books/information in general – not through her own predictions, but rather through writings of fiction and nonfiction by other authors. She focuses mostly on how writers in the past thought information access would be in the future. Fiction writing, she claims, tends to focus more on long-term future and make more concrete predictions about how the library will actually BE in the future. However, fiction does not necessarily attempt to prophesize (is that a word?), instead it expresses the writer’s own fears and beliefs about the potential of their own society – most often for the worst. Pannevaria cites numerous fiction examples where books and information are completely destroyed by an overbearing government, reflecting the value of books for independent thought and existence. Nonfiction, on the other hand, tends to be more conservative in their predictions. She references a few articles relating to technology, but points out that most deal more with the actual role of the library. Librarians themselves were the optimistic futurists, believing the library will remain similar but grow in importance and become a true cultural center. Interestingly, aspects of their predictions – whether literally or in a more figurative sense – can today be found in the modern library.

(1) As noted in Pennevaria’s description of fiction, there seems to have existed a deep-seated fear about a society losing its information exposure and retention. Was their fear valid and can you see its repercussions today? What parts of fictitious predictions came true?
(2) Why might the librarians have been the only “optimistic futurists?”
(3) Charles Cutter in 1883 offered the fantasy that all libraries in the country would be technologically connected and open every day. To what extent was Cutter correct?
(4) In the Cambridge Review one author makes a social commentary about the university libraries and its need to be run by scholars instead of bureaucrats. Has the university situation improved in your eyes?

Article 4
Sapp details thoughts about future librarianship and libraries throughout different decades since the ALA’s establishment in 1876. While obviously concerns change with the times, it is surprising to see how many elements remain the same (concerns over technology, proper organization, supply/demand). Between 1876-1900 Sapp cites concerns over the social agenda for librarians, and between 1900 and 1945 a sense of civic responsibility only increased with the outbreaks of World Wars I and II. The question of getting information to patrons remained a large issue throughout the 20th century as librarians were unsure and in disagreement whether technology should aid the library, and if so, how. After 1946, as academic scholarship changed and increased, the library further questioned how it would meet the demands of its new and ever-growing patronage and the appropriate technology to aid them along. Even today, we see this debate in libraries over the future role of technology as the library enters the digital world as well as keeping its foot in print culture.

(1) After 1900, many librarians asserted the library’s continual role in adult education. Do you think this role continues today? What does this role say about the library’s view of civic responsibility? Have the libraries “fundamental values remained in tact”?
(2) What do disagreements over computers in the library say about the debate that goes on today and the library’s sensitivity to tradition?
(3) Do you see a heaver dependence on technology in the library – and reduction in print resources – as a reality?

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