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By Edwin B. Burgess, Director, Combined Arms Research Library (Heart of America (now Kansas/Western Missouri) Chapter, Government Information and Military Libraries Divisions
It doesn‘t exactly take a rocket scientist to notice that libraries have changed more in the last couple of decades than they did in the century before that. When I started in this business, I learned how to order LC cards using paper forms. Last week I used the web-based administrative module of a vendor to link our ILS with the vendor‘s database of periodical articles. This represents a sea change in our profession. Again, not rocket science, but of more than passing interest to practitioners.
I‘m privileged to work in a medium-sized library that supports a small school providing mid-career graduate education to military officers. The service we give them was unimaginable two decades ago. We have people in our organization who seriously propose getting rid of a library that has been in place for a century because everything you need to know is on the web. Technological change has weaseled its way into our hearts.
This isn’t a paean to the forgotten days of yore. Libraries are better, and a hell of a lot better, than they were when I started. In 1972, when I slithered into my first professional job, no one seriously considered that it could ever be possible to hand a college student everything he needed to complete a term paper in five minutes. No one had even heard of unmediated database searching. Of course, that was the year before we got electricity and sold the mule.
Change is good. Change is life. Our business is different now, and will be ridiculously, revoltingly different in another decade. Yeah, yeah, grandpa, so what?
Well, the So What is that managers have to deal with the change. I have multicultural employees, patrons from eighty-seven countries (this year), and people whose business, maybe their physical survival, is dependent on the newest news, the latest research, the best understanding of something they never heard of before last week. Right now, the way to do that is a mix of mediated and unmediated searching, wide-ranging database access, good connectivity, careful attention to collection development, and comprehensive personal service. My building is going to be renovated starting this fall and I have to figure out how to keep services going. High excitement!
Well, never mind. We‘ll work it out. Libraries can do this stuff. Librarians can do this stuff. And we will.
Ed Burgess is the director of the Combined Arms Research Library in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He is practicing to become a windy curmudgeon in his old age.