The More Things Change

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849

I began my comprehensive exam with this quotation. Forgive me as I plagiarize myself, but it seemed fitting, as a profound summation of my library school experience, to review my exam for my final Hack Library School post: one more thinkpiece on the future of libraries.

Two chickens talking. One says

I learned, while writing my exam, that there has been a crisis in librarianship every 20 years for the last 60 years or so. (Please don’t ask me for citations, as I didn’t include this fact in my exam, and I no longer have access to the database where I found this out.)

Also learned: duplication of resources (in the legal context, at least) has been a problem since the 1930s.[1]

In other words, all this supposed panic about the future of libraries is nothing new. Outsiders think that with everything being online (*cough*”everything”*cough) libraries are going to disappear. We keep writing articles and blog posts and tweets about how that’s ridiculous–and it is. Every generation[2] has had its advances in technology and libraries and librarians have adapted, while libraries have remained relevant and important.

Was there a major panic in the world of libraries when mass production of books made ownership available to “everyone”? I don’t know. I’d guess there probably was. But libraries survived because “everyone” didn’t actually include everyone.

Of course, you and I know all this already. My gut reaction to “libraries are disappearing, panic!” is always “but the digital divide! But information literacy!” (Obviously there is more to it.)

In my comps exam I was forced to start from a presumption of panic about the future of libraries. And what I realized, over the course of the two days I sat in Starbucks working, was that of course libraries are changing. Libraries are always adjusting. (See what I wrote above.) But at the same time, librarians are doing the same tasks, working towards the same goals, facing the same challenges, just with different processes and different resources as those changes occur.

I hope you will be inspired by the conclusion to my exam: “the more libraries change, the more librarians stay the same.”

[1] Danner, R. A. (2012). The ABA, the AALL, the AALS, and the “Duplication of Legal Publications”. Law Library Journal104(4), 485-530.

[2] You know what I really hate? Sweeping generalizations like this. “From the beginning of time, librarians have…” hated papers that start with the phrase “from the beginning of time.” But I’m sweepingly generalizing here anyway.

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