A Light in the Information Forest?

I’m finally back from SLA. After spending long, long days in committee meetings, inter-committee meetings, cross-unit meetings and just about every other kind of meeting any configuration of librarians can come up with, something occurred to me:

Where is the true library visionary?

I’m asking this question in all seriousness. After ten-odd (at times very odd) years in the profession, we’re not only fretting over the same problems I read about in library school, we’re now obsessing over the exponential rate at which these problems grow. We worry about our obsolescence; we ponder about The Future of Librarianship, the salvation usually being whatever is trendy or sexy at the moment. And we wonder if anyone besides us notices (much less understand) what we do.

I hope I’m not too harsh, yet I can’t help but feel that we as a profession fall painfully short when it comes to coming up with an idea, a vision–a something that inspires the MLS/MLIS masses to greatness. We’re eloquent when it comes to reacting to threats: the Patriot Act, censorship, disappearing budgets, et al. But when it comes to going beyond defensiveness, we lose it. Other than a constant (and–thanks to increasingly sophisticated search engines and other information gathering technologies–justified) preoccupation with survival, we lack a true vision that makes our minds race or inspires us to go beyond just making through the next fiscal year or technological innovation. In other words, we have no post-millennium Ranganathan.

This is not to diss our current crop of library leaders, but if you look at the topics that someone of Michael Gorman‘s stature is called upon to speak, they pretty much center around our viability. It’s depressing.

I suspect part of the problem is the very nature of the profession itself–most of us spend our days awash with minutiae, from worrying about escalating serials costs to hashing out metadata standards for digital archives. We talk endlessly amongst ourselves about the details–in short, focusing on the information trees while missing the forest. Maybe we’re just plain too tired and overwhelmed to come up with the Grand Unified Theory of Librarianship.

I realize a Ranganathan or even a Michael Gorman doesn’t come along everyday, but if there’s a time when we need a hero, it’s now. If you disagree, please please disabuse me of my pessimistic notions. But I have a sinking feeling I’ll hear a lot more from the commiserators than the dissenters….

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