11 Apr 2019

Just the same but brand new

Post by Michelle Dalton, Librarian, Institute of Public Administration, Ireland

As I look through the tweets from some of the recent library conferences, it’s interesting to see that many of the themes and issues being discussed have been circulating around the library world for quite a long time now. The LAI & CILIP joint conference this week looked at how our libraries can support and promote inclusivity. UKSG covered a breadth of issues as always, but the cost of publishing and journals was a prominent motif in many talks, whilst last month’s LAI Academic & Special Libraries conference questioned the role of the library as a “Space, Place, or State of Mind?”.

These themes and challenges are not new in a lot of cases, and indeed many emanate directly from the core values and missions of libraries, so this is not surprising. For example, @hughtweet recently drew my attention to the fact that serials costs and cutbacks have been a challenge faced by libraries since, well, possibly forever:

Similarly inclusion has always been an intrinsic value held by libraries and librarians, as has the importance of the library as a place, in all its forms. What has changed of course, is the context. Right now, the cost of scholarly publishing is framed very much within the discourse of Plan S which has added a new dimension to the debate. Inclusivity has also taken on a new significance within society more generally, and today libraries have an opportunity to be a leader in this area, and perhaps to broaden the discussion to look at our own library staffing and structures also. The way we look at our library spaces has changed now too. The transformation in both the physical and digital environment has sparked an increased emphasis on user experience and a growing need for libraries to consider sustainability in how they deliver services and supports, and as a result we are having some very different conversations when we talk about the library as place today.

Whilst it is not all that surprising to see the same themes resurfacing over time given the enduring nature of some of the challenges we face, it is refreshing to see these same discussions approached with a new energy, a different perspective and real creativity. It is not simply the case that we are rehashing the same arguments (though to some degree this is unavoidable at times), but instead libraries and library staff are embracing opportunities to question what we do with a critical eye, and to open up the conversation to new areas. We may not always have the answers of course, but it is far more problematic when we stop asking questions in the first place.

*With thanks to Annie Clark for the blog post title


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