Spring 1997 OLA/WLA Conference Presentation:
The Ethical Library: Responsibility for our Users and Staff in the Information Age
Presenters: Linda Pierce, Foley Center, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA and Mark Alfino, Department of Philosophy, Gonzaga University
In this presentation, our goals are to identify some of the ways in which information technology poses a threat to librarians' professional identity and to develop a theory about the role that it should play. In the process of doing that we will identify organizational processes which may help librarians negotiate technological change, both within their profession and with their patrons. (For simplicity, we will use the phrase "information technology" to refer to contemporary trends in electronic or cybernetic information technology. Obviously, print books are also a form of information technology.)
Information Technology has a different role to play in different kinds of institutions, depending upon the type of institution. We can distinguish three cases:
Critical Question: What is the basis for deciding whether libraries are in group 2 vs. group 3?
Two claims we'll argue for:
In general, we think that librarians need to make more careful distinctions between information technologies which can enhance or add new missions to librarianship and those which may negatively alter a service. What's needed is an organizational process which allows librarians and patrons to effectively weigh the impact of technolgical change.
A good organizational process for thinking about the impact of electronic information technology on libraries will have to consider not only the "objective" costs and benefits of shifts in service and collection, but also the impact of those shifts on the nature of the service. In addition, the subjective perceptions of patrons must sometime be given overriding consideration (e.g. a case of a patron's brute preference for a print index over an electronic one, or for browsing a range of a bookshelf over using the catalog).
Librarians have to avoid both the tendency to get caught up enthusiastically in technological change without realizing when that change causes essentially and negative impact on a service and a tendency to hang on to older technologies an attitudes (such as some aspects of the "collection mentality") which are really vestiges of the librarian's professional culture.
Consider, for example how you would distinguish, by example, the following three scenarios:
Benton Foundation (1996) Buildings, books, and bytes: Libraries and communities in the digital age. Washington, D.C. Benton Foundation.
Eisenstadter, Ingrid. (1997, February 17) A tangled info web: Don't be deceived; even a high-tech library still need shelves of books and journals. Newsweek, 16
Krautz, Joachim. (1996) The information superhighway: A road to misery? Contemporary Review, 268 (1560), 22-27
Marcum, Deanna.B. (1996) Redefining community through the public library. Daedlus, 125 (4) 191-206
McCook, Kathleen de la Pena (1997) The Search for New Metaphors. Library Trends (forthcoming, Summer 1997)
Tisdale, Sallie (1997) Silence please: The public library as entertainment center. Harper's Magazine, 294 (1762), 65-74
©1997 by Mark Alfino, Department of Philosophy, Gonzaga University.