Library Futures, pt. 1

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The pattern is familiar.  A librarian writes a “provocative” article in a journal—-for which most subscribers are not rank-and-file librarians—-creates a “buzz” for a few weeks, and the response is, if not viral, visceral.

Latest example:  Brian Sullivan’s opinion piece, “Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050,” published in the January 2, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Though perhaps unintended by Mr. Sullivan, the timing was exquisitely stealth.  On January 2, a Sunday, most workers from the groves of academe were enjoying the holidays and trying not to think too deeply about the academy.

Sullivan’s library future:  “…books collections obsolete….library instruction no longer necessary….information literacy fully integrated into the curriculum….libraries and librarians subsumed by information technology departments….reference services disappeared….economics trumped quality….”

A bleak landscape, to be sure, along with this indictment: “…the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future….”  Librarians, declares Sullivan, are guilty of “audacious denial” and will themselves have caused the library’s “deterioration and demise.”

Responses to this autopsy report were quick to surface and ranged from begrudging agreement with Sullivan’s thesis to ad hominem critique: “The author…should retire now.”

Since the Chronicle of Higher Education is required reading by college and university presidents, provosts, chief academic officers, finance vice-presidents, deans, and foundation officers, here’s hoping there is no institutional support or budget fallout as a post-mortem to the article. 

It’s an intriguing concept, indeed a surpising persona:  the librarian as agent provocateur.

            —–  Contributed by Sims Kline



Future Words Now

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

acrimoney n. a voluntary fine levied against politicians who demonize, stereotype, or otherwise disrespect individuals or groups or their own country; must be paid out of the personal account of the offending politician, not from funds raised by supporters.

zogbite, n. [pejorative] used to describe instances of content-free poll-inspired ostensibly focused political sloganeering.

An alumna of the University hand-delivered to me during the Christmas holidays a remarkable gift: The Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney’s Books, 2004).  If you want to get a lexical head start on the next few decades—and experience a dictionary with an attitude—this book’s for you.  Janus-style, the book will definitely take you back in time, as well.

The student, now preparing for her doctoral comprehensive exams in international studies, knows my interest in words and my irritation with politicians.  This dictionary is for me the perfect gift.

A multimedia learning experience, the dictionary comes with a CD modestly titled “Future Soundtrack for America.”  Also, a feast of tongue-in-cheek illustrations awaits the reader in the center of the book.   Looking at the CD song titles and artists, I’ve decided the audio compilation is a litmus test for whether you’re hip, retro, or just hopelessly out of touch with popular culture.

The attitude of the dictionary is summarized in the Introduction:  “This dictionary was conceived as a way for a great number of American writers and artists to voice their displeasure with their current political leadership [the book came out just before the 2004 election…think Dubya….] and to collectively imagine a brighter future.”

Subtitle: “A Book to Benefit Progressive Causes in the 2004 Elections, Featuring over 170 of America’s Best Writers and Artists.”

According to the editors “…all proceeds from the sales of this dictionary go directly to groups devoting to expressing their outrage over the Bush Administration’s assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of Church and State, a woman’s right to choose, clean air….”

Though nowhere stated, the general editor of the dictionary apparently is Dave Eggers at McSweeney’s.  Contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, Billy Collins, Robert Coover, and many other literati.

Notes on the contributors are great reading, too, e.g. “Christoph Niemann was born and educated in Germany, and came to New York in 1997.  At some point he wants to learn to play the cello.”

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