The Long View
by Barbara Quint
Well, it’s been a hell of a run — and it’s not over yet. With the last issue of a 20-year run, Searcher will cease as an independent publication. In 2013, it will merge with its sister publication, ONLINE magazine, to form Online Searcher. What will the new publication cover? Ask Marydee Ojala, the editor-in-chief of ONLINE now and Online Searcher in the next editorial year. I’m busy meeting my own editorial mandate. My publisher has given me one guideline for the role of senior editor in the new pub — “Keep it edgy. I want your section to have attitude.”
Now that may be another first. In my long-and-getting-longer career, I can’t ever recall a boss actually asking me for attitude. I sure hope I can live up to the assignment. Heh, heh, heh.
Some people think that the underlying image of the term “edginess” is a knife’s sharp side. (OK, so I’ve waved a hatchet or two in my lurid past.) But I think of edginess as a question of positioning. It’s when you stand at the edge of a forest and a meadow and see more than just trees and grass. It’s the contrast between two realities or two possibilities in the case of virtual forests and virtual meadows that can give you valuable insights. That’s the edge that the Searcher side of Online Searcher will follow. Suffice it to say that the Searcher section in the first issue of the new pub will carry a feature from Steve Coffman, who always carries a whole set of axes when he goes foresting — edges for edges.
In the course of thinking about this farewell to the old and hail to the new, I looked back on the terrains I had surveyed in the past. Some of what I found came from the wisdom of experience; some from the frustration of the world not appreciating how right I was (and still am).
Let’s get the latter out of the way first. I want to leave this issue feisty but still with a touch of dignity. When the @#$@#$ are the leading library organizations going to band together and get us and our clients a .lib? Honestly!! We should have had one decades ago! Now more than ever when we are challenged as a profession for being dated and irrelevant and when our claims for being the people’s information professionals, even when heard, are deemed pathetic and merely self-serving, now we need to join the third millennium. We need to coordinate our activities, eliminate wasteful duplication of effort and resources, and push our skills into the public eye. And we all know where the eyeballs are to be found these days.
But more than our own interests, a well-rounded and replete .lib would serve the interests of our clients. And by our clients, I mean the world. The greatest factor limiting the performance of our profession remains the ZIP code view of our constituencies. Companies, cities, colleges, government agencies, law firms, and other institutions may pay our salaries, but our profession sets the highest and broadest ethical standard. We want to inform anybody who needs information. Think of our traditions. Reference librarians answer phones without asking for address checks, and then there’s interlibrary loan.
The one great value in the internet and its web lies in its universal scope and awesome breadth of service. That’s for us. And in a world where most people suffer from information overload and the price for ignorance continues to rise, imagine how useful it would be to scan curated results, stamped with the librarian’s seal of approval. It’s so obvious. Honestly! I doubt you’d have to get out of your car to get the Gates Foundation to approve the grant for getting the “dot.” As for operating costs, people who get domain names pay for them annually, though the agencies dispensing the domain name can control what is being approved and what is being charged. A .lib could fulfill the ancient dream of humankind — to do good and do well. Honestly!! At this point we look like chumps for not having done it years ago, but a thing worth doing, as my beloved G.K. Chesterton once observed, is worth doing badly.
OK. This smoke puffing out of my ears has begun to dissipate. One positive thought in that last little diatribe is worth repeating. Whatever we are called — librarians, info pros, professional searchers — we serve the interests of our clients. Even information professionals working for vendors have a professional ethic they should hold fast. A doctor is not just a hospital employee; a lawyer does not just work for a law firm. Professional ethics requires us to regard the welfare of our clients, however defined, as critical in guiding our activities. When it comes to the curriculum of library and information studies schools, teaching that standard of ethics should be key. Technologies come and go, but service to clients never dies.
And in the course of our daily lives and work, we should look for the long view. Too many times in the past, we have regarded new tasks, new technologies, new services as extras, things to be tried when we have extra time or extra resources such as a grant or two. In some cases, this is an appropriate approach, but sometimes the new ways are breakthrough better, much broader in their reach, much more capable of reaching new clients or creating new roles for established clients. When your professional judgment recognizes the critical importance of a new approach for your clientele, then you must plan for its permanence, even when that means discarding traditional roles. You are your people’s information professional. You have to give them your best, even when the old and ordinary fits their image of what you do. In the Information Age, an info pro who has a comfortable job has a job s/he isn’t doing right. In my own career, I learned a lesson. A good job is a job where you don’t know how to do it all. A career should be built on learning and improving. We all seek comfort and solidity in our lives, but the only part of life that provides that kind of permanence comes with a dirge. If you’re not growing, you’re dead.
And you can’t let yourself die! The world may not need libraries, but it will always need librarians — the right kind of librarians, ones who serve the world’s needs and wants the best way possible. And keep pushing on the definition of possible. Impossible should not be defined by some dead-head administrator’s notions. If the administrator can’t be converted, maybe it’s time for you to take your talents and vision to a new venue. Go work for Google or a library vendor with a good reputation. Make sure your new employer knows the organization is going to be performing a lot better after letting loose a tiger like you.
Yeah!! EDGY!!! See you in the new pub. Searcher was sweet, but it’s in the rearview mirror now. Online Searcher is the new vehicle, and the pedal’s to the metal.