by Donna Slaton, Kentucky & Tennessee Valley Chapters, Solo Librarians Division
Selection is the librarian’s most valuable tool for the future. Selection is not censorship. Librarians of the future should select for value and purpose with clearly defined goals in mind. When the whole world can “Google” anything in print pretty much, what will set libraries apart is the professional arrangement of valuable and useful materials, not the inclusion of vulgar, pornagraphic or trendy material just to say they are not censoring anything. It is time to “control” your stuff and choose wisely, not catalog anything and everything but choose selectively so that libraries are a respected resource not a less than “Google” sized collection of anything and everything.
Selection policies need to be reviewed often in this changing world not to reflect the largest possibilities for gathering in but the most specific scope for the library and its population to be served. Public and academic libraries more than special libraries have continuously grown beyond reason because they have in the last two decades tried to collect everything. But even special libraries that have a more narrow focus have been growing with the attitude that bigger is better to the point where storage and staff expense is not in line with value given to anyone except other librarians.
Weeding is also a necessary tool of selection. Once you have selected it, you have to recognize if it is not in use, or has never been used, you should move it out to provide space for necessary materials. Too many librarians still horde old stuff because they cannot bear to throw away a book. There is simply too much stuff in print for anyone to ever read and too many copies of most of it.
With the advent of OCLC network and Inter Library Loan accessibility, budgets for that continuously grew as well. When I graduated college in the mid 70s, ILL was for serious scholarly research – not for the public, private or special libraries to loan each other at growing mail expenses( which is more than the cost of a paperback), either the second oldest James Patterson novel, or an obscure author that is only held by three libraries, because his second cousin in another state just decided he wanted to read it.
We have promoted libraries as the respository of everything without focusing on needs instead of wants. Libraries cannot out google Google. We do not accept paid advertising. The sooner we realize that and specialize in what we do best as the original search engine the more ready for the future we will be with valuable materials and useful information, not just a room full of stuff.
With sharply focused collections, bibliographies of materials, and links specifically addressing our unique clientele’s needs, special librarians have an opportunity to lead the way in guiding users to the needed materials without gathering all of it ourselves. Future ready is smaller and smarter.
Donna F. Slaton is Librarian II for the Green River Correctional Complex – a medium security prison in Kentucky’s Dept of Corrections. She served 10 years as Associate Director of the Hopkins County-Madisonville Public Library and switched from public to special libraries in 2008, joining SLA in 2009. She writes a weekly column for the Madisonville Messenger newspaper and blogs under LibraryUp and LibraryLadyWrites and is Past President of the Kentucky Storytelling Association. Her web site is www.misspockets3.com.