A couple of things caught my eye today. First, I found this article by David H. Holtzman in the Oct. 25 issue of BusinessWeek. It’s called "Share the Knowledge, Expand the Wealth" and makes the case that copyright, while still an incredibly valuable legal protection against intellectual property theft has been badly abused by the giants of the publishing, entertainment and software industries to the detriment of you and me, or other folks who might want to make use of IP licenses for our own creative efforts. I’m not sure how effectively Holtzman makes his case, as he writes in broad strokes for the layman instead of making use of actual case law, but it’s worth reading because I think his main point is a good one.
My other find today was an article called "Our Librarians, Our Heroes" from the De Moines register, which I put behind the cut (it was forwarded in an e-mail so I don’t have a URL for it.)
Our librarians, our heroes. .
.From nabbing sex
offenders to finding tough answers, they’re on the
By MIKE KILEN
Sex offenders apparently aren’t very well
read. If they were, they’d know not to mess with a librarian.
When a man
grabbed a 20-month-old child and dragged her to the men’s room of the downtown
Des Moines Public Library earlier this month, police say the library staff
conducted a "masterful tactical response," led by 35-year library veteran
Dorothy Kelley, hereafter called the "field general."
She barked orders,
burst into the men’s room and grabbed the child while other staff members kept
the convicted sex offender, James Effler, trapped in the john.
after, a plant was delivered to the library’s front desk. The attached card
read: "To: The Hero Librarians. From: The Des Moines mothers who are
A kind gesture, to be sure. But people, people.
I’m sure they are grateful, but you don’t want to mess with a
librarian on spelling.
These are tough folks. Forget the shushing,
bifocals-and-support-hose librarian. They don’t like that image. Librarians are
people who endure fickle budget decisions, the Patriot Act, the ever-changing
information age and still have time for random arrests.
They may be the
most unusual public servant left in our time.
Where else can you pick up
a telephone, avoid an enormously lengthy phone tree, talk to a live person with
a beating heart, ask a question and get an answer, all in less than five
I’m not taken to nostalgia, but this is the equivalent of a
So here’s what I wonder: Aren’t these heroic reference
librarians about to be outdated, outsourced, out-Googled?
We live in an
information age full of experts. Call up a couple of Web sites, write a blog and
join a long list of blowhards who just repeat the information they found
surfing. A person who does the grunt work and finds the original, respected
source of information is practically a dinosaur.
The reference librarian
digs into dusty old magazines that aren’t online, rolls microfilm of newspapers,
flips through out-of-print books and ancient city directories and collects
tidbits and scraps of a society amazed that everything isn’t entirely
Here at the Central Library in
, reference librarians answered
315,000 reference questions last year.
Every so often, public officials
get the idea of cutting budgets. Five librarians were cut two years ago at
Central. But with good sense, the positions have been
Statewide, the number of librarians has increased – from 1,263
in 1990 to 1,560 in 2004 – and the number of reference questions answered hit at
an all-time high of 2,001,538 in 2003. The American Library Association reports
that the number of reference questions to public libraries nationally has
increased every year from 1990 to 2002.
"As there gets to be more and
more information, people need to be smart about it," said Mary Wegner, the state
librarian. "People have to learn to evaluate what they find on the Internet. The
librarian does that."
Think you’re an expert, Googlehead? The Pew
Internet and American Life Project did a survey earlier this year and found only
one in six users of search engines can tell the difference between unbiased
search results and paid advertisements.
We can enjoy our fancy
bookstores, a new $32.5 million downtown
library opening in April and a
complex home computer that promises information at our fingertips.
the reference librarian cuts through all the information overload like a skilled
If there is a tidbit of information on this planet that begs for
the light of day, they are there, maybe not wearing a Superman cape, but a
cardigan, quickly drawing their "snag file" into action. It’s a pile of index
cards with common or hard-to-find answers neatly alphabetized.
you an idea, one card says only this: "The correct spelling of portobello
Mushroom spellings. The altitude of
. The corporate
address of Ford Motor. In the pursuit of accurate information, they never give
up, never surrender.
I loved," wrote Kurt Vonnegut
in his new book, "A Man Without a Country," "still exists in the front desks of
Say you’re sitting there in your pajamas wondering
about some names for former President Ronald Reagan’s dogs.
"Reagan’s dogs" into Google and five Web sites are listed. The first is a
leasing company. The second is CNN (bingo!), which after two minutes trying to
load is a dead end. The next two were personal blogs and the last was a message
on a bulletin board. Time elapsed: Five minutes.
In the library snag file
here it is: Lucky and Rex.
Say you’re at a cocktail party wondering how
many words end in "gry." (Answer forthcoming).
These are all questions to
be answered by the heroic Des Moines Public Library staff. The 11 staff members
with a master’s in library science have an average of nearly 19 years of
Deborah Kolb has worked at the Central Library since 1972.
She says that young people seem startled that everything can’t be found via
Google. One student recently had to actually visit the Central Library and be
shown a relic – the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature – to look up old
magazine articles on
for a school report.
she said, don’t know that some Internet sites that claim to be online
encyclopedias are actually information supplied by users.
Kolb won’t let
questions just drift away with flimsy sourcing. Librarians tackle the answer as
if they’re subduing a sex offender.
"My lifelong dream is to be on
‘Jeopardy’," she said.
Kolb loves the old building that has housed the
library since 1903. It’s in her bones.
"You never know who is going to
walk in those doors," she said. "Everyone from kindergartners to people who
sleep under the bridge."
The librarian is really the headmaster of a
great social environment, maybe one of the few places other than Wal-Mart where
all socioeconomic classes mix. And it’s a rare place for poor people to get
information. Librarians are enormously proud of that. Maybe it’s the humanity
oozing from all the great books that surround them.
Soon they will all
move down a few blocks to the new library on the west side of downtown. A modern
library must offer more access to computers – the number will jump from five to
35 – and a coffeeshop.
The librarians will still be the library’s
People such as Pam Deitrick, a librarian who started working here
part-time in high school in 1969. When a parent dies, she helps the grieving
caller try to remember the name of the song he wants to play at the funeral.
When people get a diagnosis from their doctor, they call her to ask what it is
and how long they have. She’ll pull out the medical book, careful not to claim
an expert status, and help them through it.
Just then the phone rings. A
caller wants to find a certain paint and can’t remember the name of the
manufacturer. Don’t ask me how, but Deitrick found it in
library staff gleefully found the answers to the words that end in gry: hungry,
angry (OK, those were easy), aggry (a type of ancient, variegated glass beads),
meagry (having a meager appearance), puggry (a light scarf wrapped around a head
or helmet for sun protection).
I thought this was a dying profession. I
was wrong. Librarians are too tough to die out. They have this special force.
Information just finds them.
Nikki Hayter, 27, was in her third day of
training at the Central Library the day I visited. The older vets were showing
her the ropes. Her grandmother had been a librarian there long, long ago. Her
dad worked in the boiler room. She practically grew up in the place.
was told to flip through a roll of microfilm just to see how it works. She
grabbed the first one off the stack. 1949. She zoomed through the roll and
randomly stopped on a photograph.
It just happened to be the engagement
photo of her great aunt.
In the increasingly complex cosmos of
information, something tells me she has a great future as a reference