by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
Life’s funny. You try to learn from experience, but some of the lessons experience teaches may seem illogical, even anti-logical. But the lessons keep working over and over again. Take inanimate objects, for example. Did you know that they can move of their own volition when you’re not looking? How many times have you put something in its place, in the place where you always put it, only to have it disappear practically in front of your eyes? Salt shakers have a particular fondness for playing “peekaboo.” Usually all you have to do is yell, “Where the #$@ is that !#$% ...?” and the “inanimate” object jumps out from hiding. Sometimes, however, the item must get lost itself and disappears for days, evading pursuit by bewildered owners. In these cases, the only solution is to buy a replacement. Count on it. Within hours, never longer than a day, the original item will slink back from wherever it disappeared to. Just last week, I applied this standard solution to the disappearance of an inanimate object from both its usual spot and possible hiding places. I am now the proud owner of two pairs of nail scissors.
Another life lesson takes time to learn, lots of time, but I can cheat and give you the lesson right now. Some of you won’t believe me or won’t see its application in your situation, but maybe the telling will help you recognize this truth faster from your own experience. Anyway, here it comes: There are no eternal verities. Everything comes and goes. Everything changes. For example, when I was a kid, the field of entertainment had what seemed like at least two eternal verities: Bob Hope and Westerns. While all mortals die, it just didn’t seem possible that Hope could have been forgotten by many before he died. And as for Westerns, the first movie made was a Western. Decade after decade, they filled all screens — movie or television. The single most basic skill required of all motion picture actors was equitation (aka horseback riding). Now, they’re barely a separate category in Netflix and, if you order an old-fashioned “oater” from Netflix, it usually triggers some rueful “sorry, but this will take more time” email as Netflix desperately taps inventories scattered across the country.
|Wouldn’t the absence of eternal verities constitute an eternal verity itself?
But wait a minute. Here comes that pesky logic again. Wouldn’t the absence of eternal verities constitute an eternal verity itself? Empirical evidence shows that some things never go away, even in the usually volatile entertainment field. Shakespeare’s plays are still performed on stage and screen. And then there’s I Love Lucy. Over half a century old, yet no day goes by without reruns appearing. Perhaps everything changes in time, but the changes may not destroy the core. Perhaps the lesson we should learn is to avoid absolutes in our thinking, to remain observant and attuned to change, but to be insightful in developing scenarios of what may happen in the future. But one truth remains. Eternity is a long, long time. Some institution may have existed for ages, but that still doesn’t mean it will always exist.
We’ve already seen panic reactions with corporations across the land slashing employment, sending hundreds of thousands of people to unemployment lines. Clearly, you can’t pay out money you don’t have, but it does seem ironic when companies use layoffs to defend their ability to supply declining customer bases and those same customer bases are declining because of too many layoffs.
In these difficult days, safety — such as it is — must lie in info pros remaining open to change but dedicated to the welfare of our clients. Play out the scenarios. What sources can you drop? What must be kept? What new sources will you need to meet new needs, new challenges, even new user communities? What can you get for less? What will be worth the money even in tight budget times? For many of us, this means analyzing not only our organization’s existing needs, but its future needs as the organization scrambles to both retain and expand its client base.
Whatever we do, some of the changes we make — or we suffer through — will be permanent. The buffalo will not be coming back to the prairie, neither will the prairie. People will adjust to new sources, new technologies and will never look back. The demographic sometimes referred to as “the Millennials” has always lived and worked in a World Wide Web. Born in the 1980s, they have graduated college and headed into the work force. They will be the new clients and new employees. For them, the “good old days” were the “dot-com boom” era. Even if some of them lost their jobs, most likely their internet connections will be next to the last to go in any belt-tightening. After all, without the internet, how could they expect to get a new job or endure the painful lack of connection, the sense of having fallen off the planet? Offline they will not go. But, according to recent statistics, they may turn to public libraries to stay online and read borrowed books instead of filling Amazon’s coffers.
We’ll see. We’ll see. And, come what may, our commitment to serving our clients, wherever they may be, and whatever they may need will remain one proven eternal verity.