Cautionary tale of change

Aug 09 2010 Published by under How Libraries Work

So it's been a fascinating and productive day here in Los Angeles; I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, and had my brain rattled in useful ways.

The day's final presentation, from Elisabeth Leonard, was all about change and change management in libraries. As she said, practically everything else that was said today (certainly by me!) fed into that theme.

I found myself thinking about the end of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (and no, I won't apologize for spoilers on this one). The plot of The Kindly Ones offers any number of hints—well, sometimes not hints, sometimes more like two-by-fours over the head—that Morpheus is not only allowing but orchestrating his own demise. At Morpheus's funeral, the librarian Lucien is asked why—why would Morpheus do that? Why did he die?

"Charitably," Lucien answers, "I think… sometimes, perhaps, one must change or die. And in the end, there were, perhaps, limits to how much he could let himself change."

I wonder how much that is true of libraries, particularly as we confront the challenges that scholarly communication and research-data management present us. (I wonder how much it's true of scholarly publishers, too. We certainly aren't the only profession in this boat.)

And in my very low, very discouraged moments (which are thankfully rather fewer of late), I wonder whether we should reach for the life preserver or the wrecking ball.

Anyway, I promised my slidedeck with speaker's notes, so here it is:

So are we winning yet?

2 responses so far

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Something about creative destruction comes to mind...

  • rknop says:

    OK, this comment isn't going to be very deep, but: have you read "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge? Part of the plot hinges on a bunch of oldtimers trying to save physical books as they are violently torn apart and ripped to shreds as part of a statistical scanning program that, after tearing apart enough libraries, will be able to accurately scan everything that's in those books, making it digital and more useful. Interestingly, the narrative is probably most sympathetic to the oldtimers, even though Vinge is one of those "yay, the Singularity is coming!" kinds of guys.

    (Never mind the whole issue of IP and such that you allude to re: the NIH and open access.)