Rebuttal to Dewey Decimal Jokes

A typical response when I tell people my that I am a librarian is: “those are still around?” or “people still do that?” My knee jerk response is one of rage. Other feelings include pity that they are missing out on the magic of libraries and sadness that they are not aware of how progressive and dynamic the profession is.  But then I remember that prior to enrolling in a library program, I sought out a current librarian and asked her whether librarianship is still a viable profession.  So even a frequent library user, like myself, has considered these questions.

We Need Librarians Today More Than Ever- How an ancient profession stays on top of the digital age,” published a few days ago in Law and Technology Resources for Legal Professionals (LLRX) refutes the idea that the extinction of librarians is a new idea. This central idea reminds me of my favorite New York Times article, “Dead Again” published in 2012, that also debunks the closely related idea that books will eventually become extinct. The Times article makes two important points: 1) technology rarely completely takes over it’s predecessor [let’s consider the record player, phased out for a while and now back in a major way] and 2) history has prophesied the end of books for a while, the only thing that changes is the culprit.  For example, an article ran in the New York Times in the early 90s, forecasting that books will succumb to–wait for it…hypertext! Here’s the thing, people have been predicting that books will become obsolete since well before the digital age, as early as the 19th century:

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“Well before any of these digital technologies, Théophile Gautier’s novel ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin’ had already declared that ‘the newspaper is killing the book, as the book killed architecture.’ This was in 1835. And Gautier was only one-upping Victor Hugo’s ‘Hunchback of Notre-Dame,’ which, four years earlier, depicted an archdeacon worrying the book would kill the cathedral, and a bookseller complaining that newfangled printing presses were throwing the scribes out of work.”

The LLRX article presents a similar perspective, that “information overload is as old as humanity.” I find this viewpoint refreshing, instead of doom and gloom scenarios, the 2012 Times article and 2017 LLRX article actually put things into historical perspective. The LLRX article covers a range of topics, from the relationship between librarians and publishers (and how this has changed with digital content) to the increase in “false news” thanks to the internet. It’s also a treasure trove of links to content further explaining and substantiating the author’s main points. One of those ideas is that it’s easy to create digital content, but librarians (and others) are essential to organizing, authenticating, promoting, and preserving data online. More than that, librarians are committed to providing equal access to information, digital or otherwise. One particularly expensive and exclusive realm of information has been articles published in scientific journals.

Back in 2003, academics considered the possibility of free, digital scholarly articles (peer reviewed and non peer reviewed), an idea known as Open Access.  A revolutionary idea 15 years ago, librarians and publishers have worked together to create a viable framework where both stakeholders benefit.  So much progress has been made, that many people, according to the LLRX article, predict that Open Access will soon be the norm for scientific publishing.  This partnership represents one of the ways that librarianship, “is not all shushing, reading, and making dumb Dewey Decimal System jokes. Contrary to popular belief, librarianship is anything but dull…[it’s] an inherently high-stakes pursuit in today’s digital culture, and will remain so forever.”

Below are a few links to open access content:

A more complete list can be found on Wikipedia.

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