Thursday, July 26, 2007

What are we?

What are librarians? Especially library directors. Are we politicians, in this to get all the glory (and the funding) we possibly can for our library - and incidentally for the other libraries in the state? Or are we public servants, trying our best to meet the information and technology needs of our communities however the heck we can?

I know that I can't be just a public servant. I have to worry about the realities of things like the (utterly pitiful) library budget and how short-staffed we are. But I, personally, refuse to buy into the notion that my purpose is to analyze everything we do in order to extract political and financial gain.

Does this make me a bad director? A poor advocate for my library and for public libraries in general? Am I missing part of what it takes to be a great librarian?

I've been wondering about this in the wake of a meeting last week in which, after discussing the possibility of introducing a new statewide service, the other directors in the room jumped straight to the question of whether this would boost the image and "brand recognition" of public libraries in the state. My brain was still working on the question of how I was going to provide this service to the children in my county whose only access to the internet is for brief periods during the school day. The question of how this service could be used as a means of prodding legislators (and the public) into recognizing the good we do in libraries simply never occurred to me. All that I was thinking was how to get to patrons.

So I have to ask: am I missing a piece of the puzzle? Does focusing solely on the services we provide and on the things we can do for our patrons, without worrying about how we market ourselves and what the people in the state capitol think of us, mean that I am losing a chance to help people?

Reading over this post, I realize that it sounds as though I am criticizing the other directors at that meeting. I'm not. They're all fiercely dedicated to their libraries and to improving the services they offer. They're good librarians, as I define that. But somehow they are operating on a completely different wavelength than I am. Maybe after twenty years of directing a public library I will think like they do. Or maybe not. Which might be better. Someone has to speak up for the raving idealists, after all, and some of us have to be in a position to put our ideals into action.

I just wonder if I am not missing a chance to do more good for libraries, and thus for our communities, because I lack the political viewfinder that so many of my colleagues seem to have.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Daily dose of adorability

Taking a cue from Bob Harris and his pudublogging, I will now provide your daily ration of cute with the following image of a kakapo:

You have to admit they're the cuddliest looking giant flightless parrots you've ever seen.

Kakapos are found in New Zealand, where there are only 86 of them left (see The problem with being a giant flightless parrot with an extremely loud mating call and a very distinctive smell is that those things make you a very appealing meal for a large number of predators. However, word is that the kakapos are hatching chicks, so there will be more very cute birds on New Zealand. Which is a good thing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Photographs and preservation

One of my projects lately has been organizing my photographs into something like archivally-correct order (this one is one of Dad's from Vietnam). I keep telling myself that I've processed collections that were in a far more advanced state of chaos, but it's somewhat disheartening to know that, despite those degrees certifying me as an organizationally advanced sort of person, my own papers and photographs and other odds and ends are just as horrifyingly jumbled as they were before I racked up all those student loans.

In the process, I've been rehousing photos in inert plastic sleeves and putting them all in archival-type binders and storing them in acid free boxes and so on. Some of them are beyond help, at this point, but at least I'm making the effort. Oddly enough, a lot of Dad's photos and a bunch of my grandparents' are in better shape than the ones I've taken. Obviously the quality of photographic prints is degenerating, like everything else these days.

The thing that really shocked me, though, was that there are a couple of major events of which I don't have a single photograph. Not one. Because I was happily lugging around the digital camera and thinking something along the lines of "this will make it so much easier to upload the pictures to the flickr page ( or the website (" And the result is that I have a hundred images on my hard drive and not a single print. Now, this is despite the fact that I know just how much of an oxymoron the term "digital preservation" is - even with all that training and even though I have spent plenty of time fighting to retrieve old files from the old laptop or a floppy or even a CD-ROM. It makes me wonder: what chance do we have of preserving an archive of images of life in the twenty-first century when even the trained professionals can't do any better than this?

From now on I'm carrying the film camera, and I'll drag out the scanner for those things that need to go online.