Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Information Revolution?

In a recent View Point that appeared in Information Today (“Library Sales Revolution” June 2012, vol. 29 issue 6) Barbara Quint acknowledges the financial crises both libraries and information vendors are currently facing. Further complicating the situation, Quint argues, is that libraries are being confronted by a “more focused assault of the new all-internet, all-end-user, and all-the-time information technological revolution” which is having the same effect on those who provide libraries with content. Quint offers a solution: create a new business model that will allow vendors and libraries alike to prosper. Important to this solution is for libraries to “maximize the value that their budgets buy for them. In fact, they need to add revenue-building as part of that value. They need to sell (emphasis mine) data as well as buy it.”

It is no secret that libraries all across the United States are suffering financially, some more so than others. This situation has forced us to consider new ways of functioning. The bottom line is librarians are being asked to maintain current levels of service with less. Librarians are creative and there have been many innovative ideas implemented to ease the burden. We have had to step out of our “traditional” roles to learn and do the jobs encompassed in the library (see “The Multi-Tasking Librarian” February 13, 2012). I think, for the most part, we are willing to do what is necessary to ensure free and unfettered access to the information we provide.

I am always open and welcome new ideas that will help sustain and advance library service. But I cannot imagine a situation that would allow libraries to begin charging for information. When the technology revolution gained momentum, it readily became obvious that another dichotomy in society was forming, the “digital divide.” While the digital divide still exists, it was mitigated when libraries made technology available to the public. For those idealistic librarians, such as myself, we hope to end illiteracy and the digital divide (Ok, maybe not end but we certainly want to make a dent!). We recognize that the public we serve come from all walks of life and from a variety of economic situations. We serve the rich and the poor, from the homeless to college students and everyone in between. So, to begin charging for information, we will be adding to the divide and disenfranchising a significant portion of those we serve.

I will close with a quote from The Federalist Papers that is attributed to Alexander Hamilton: “the wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes.” Among these are the “genius of the citizens [and] the degree of information they possess” [emphasis mine].