Scene: Deck lounge, overlooking the Oswego River, drinks flowing, librarians milling about after a long day of discussing document delivery and the future of libraries, including a brief presentation by two collections librarians on the pilot project being undertaken by a small group of SUNY libraries to attempt to do cooperative collection development.
“…so they’re only going to buy 5 copies of any book, and expect that we’ll all just share them. It’s completely bogus.”
“That’s ludicrous. What idiot thought that up?”
At home, I refer to this as a “Jenica Loses Her Temper” moment. Because the ‘idiot’ who thought that up was me, with the able support and collaboration of thirteen other SUNY collections librarians, at the behest of our Directors. And I happened to be standing not five feet away from the men who were so derisively condemning our efforts.
So I introduced myself, and told them what was really going on. A group of like libraries, composed of SUNY four-year comprehensive institutions, are volunteering to attempt to reduce duplication among our collections by not buying more than five copies of any one title, and when a sixth copy is requested by one of these libraries, collections managers will work with the selector to choose another book that is less widely held, unless the selector can identify a pressing local need for an additional copy (like, reserves, or core curricular needs, etc.). In theory, this should broaden the number of titles available for our users to borrow, and therefore meet a broader range of information needs without unduly burdening any one budget, campus, or user. It’s entirely voluntary, it’s non-binding, and it’s a pilot.
The questions I answered in my brief sojourn in Hostile Village:
- Why do I have to justify my request for a 6th copy? Why don’t you? Shouldn’t we all, as selectors and collectors, be justifying every single one of our selections? You should, if you’re collecting thoughtfully, have a justification and reason for each and every book you propose to spend state dollars on.
- So if we want to buy the most recent Pulitzer-prize winning works, or the new edition of a dictionary, we have to do it before five other people do, in order to have a copy in our library? No. Local needs will always trump the project’s limits, and any good collection manager will know and express that clearly. Some things make sense to have at every campus, and some things don’t. Our professional judgement is going to guide us as to which is which.
- Isn’t it a bad idea to involve the SUNY Central administration in local purchasing decisions? Yes, it is, which is why no one suggested that we would do that. This is pure extrapolation of your fears onto our project. We’re not formal, we’re not ‘official’, and we’re not creating a new level of bureaucracy that takes power out of the hands of the local institutions.
- How are we going to implement this on my campus? You’ll have to ask your own collection librarian; I have no intention of telling anyone else how to run their library. If your campus chooses to participate, you’ll have to figure out the workflow that best suits your needs.
- Don’t you think it’s unreasonable to ask a librarian to do more collection development work? No, I don’t. I think collection development has been a sideline at small colleges for too long, seen as an add-on to other ‘more important’ duties. I think that asking librarians to do careful and thoughtful and intentional selection of materials is not only logical but also necessary to build strong collections that meet the evolving needs of our users.
- Who put you in charge? No one. I’m not in charge. No one’s in charge. I volunteered to report on the group’s efforts, and we’re having different people and campuses host our meetings, so we make that librarian be the unofficial chair for the meeting. It changes every 3 months. No one charged me with a task other than my director who told me to investigate this idea and report back to her. Which I am happy to do.
It became clear to me as this conversation progressed that the main naysayers were men in their 50’s and 60’s who were irritated by change. Whether that’s a natural inclination, an age-based position, or a personal choice, I cannot say, but it’s representative of many of my experiences as a young woman in this profession. I felt that I was being painted as an uppity young thing making what they saw as unreasonable demands without what they perceived to be the authority to do so.
And that pisses me off, frankly.
A group of dedicated and energized librarians drove a total of 48 hours to come together in the center of our very large state to discuss a forward-looking initiative that we will participate on a voluntary basis dependent on campus leadership’s support. And we’re being condemned for that effort — before we’ve even begun — by a subset of our peers based on their own fear of change, dislike of being directed in their work, and generally poor information gathered through hearsay and innuendo rather than conversations with people actually involved. (And they were doing it loudly! In public! There’s an arrogance there that really bothers me, as well. If you’re going to denounce something in public, you might consider being aware of all the facts, and also looking around a bit to see who might be listening.) They didn’t have the real facts, they didn’t have the whole truth, and they weren’t terribly interested in learning it. They were getting more pleasure out of grumbling and condemning than they were out of listening or learning, and that became very clear very quickly. Once our conversation reached a polite stopping place, and began to drift over to complaints about the SUNY budget process, I apologized for the interruption, thanked them for listening, and excused myself. And bought a stiff drink.
Despite that moment of challenge, I received a dozen compliments on the brief presentation Jennifer Smathers and I gave at the conference, and answered a dozen more interested and enthusiastic questions about what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m planning to let that support and interest carry me over the frustration of those three men kicking mud on my new toy. The thing I won’t forget about that moment of challenge, though, is that the profession hasn’t changed. Not yet. Not really. We’re changing it, slowly and surely through our actions, ideas, and innovations, but the job’s not done. Fear still rules. Tradition still has power. The heels of stubbornness are still dug in. We are scared of a future which looks to be different than the present. And I’m going to get smacked down a few hundred more times before that’s not true anymore.
I’m not giving up, though. I’ll keep waiting for the sea change, critical mass, tipping point, what have you. And untill then I’ll keep standing back up and saying “It was my idea. Can I answer some of your questions about it?”