Like It Was Written Yesterday

Another part of historical change rhetoric I’m looking at is the persistence of themes. Read these quotes and see if you could tell when they were written purely based on the language:

Applying technology is not a “one time” event, it is a continuing activity, since technology, whatever form it takes, is constantly changing. This reality is a key aspect of librarianship today and helps explain why our profession is clearly in transition….

Even without our deliberate choice, changes are being imposed on our working environment by technology as well as by other pressures external to and within our profession. In the past decade librarians have discovered that we must either initiate change or adapt to it. We simply can’t ignore new developments and hope they will leave us untouched. An ostrich-like attitude is downright dangerous….

Perhaps, as is already true in some specialized library service assignments, advanced degree studies in addition to MLS/information science type training will be frequently expected. Position ads in current library journals already show quite a variety of preferred background qualities….

Those are from an article in the Library Journal from 1985, “Managing Change: Technology and the Profession” by Karen L. Horny. The “past decade” in which librarians discovered they had to change was a big decade for library automation, although Horny also does a pretty good job of predicting how the rise of personal computers, the digitization of content, and the ability to do things “online” will change libraries and information. (“Perhaps electronic readers will become so compact and legible that it will be possible to curl up with a good online novel!”)

Statements almost identical to this appear in the current library literature all the time. The age of such themes–combined the significant changes that have occurred in libraries over the last 30 years–seems to me an indication that angry or frustrated attacks on current librarians as hopelessly resistant to change don’t have much evidence to support them. The elder librarians around today were the very ones implementing all the significant technological changes that resulted not from the Internet or the rise of social media, but from the initial automation of catalogs and indexes starting in the 1960s. It seems to me that wave of technological change was much more shocking for librarians of the time than our current situation, which is more or less a steady development building upon the drastic and rapid change that really happened 30 or so years ago. As people get older, perhaps they get more resistant to change, or perhaps not, but the retiring generation of librarians certainly lived through and implemented significant and rapid change.

Here’s another quote I left out because of the date:

It has been especially rewarding to see that some of a library’s longer-term employees have the greatest sense of the new technology’s benefits, since they can recall, often quite vividly, the limitations of former manual operations. It is also true that for most people who have entered the library field since the early 1970s, change is the accepted norm.

I’ve encountered plenty of examples of the exact same sentiment among librarians writing today, except the time frame is since the beginning of the 21st century or some such. Librarians without a historical knowledge of how technology has affected librarianship for the past 45 years or so are always in danger of making foolish claims about the current state of the profession.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>