Libraries and the cargo cult mentality

by Paul Lai

Over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Brett Bonfield has an interesting article, “The Ebook Cargo Cult,” about the legacy of how libraries have dealt with serials abstracting and indexing, especially when it comes to the new frontier of ebooks purchasing and licensing. He writes:

When there are inefficiencies in a system, entrepreneurship and private enterprise are generally the best ways to create efficiencies. Informed librarians, acting individually but uniformly, made a calculated risk, choosing to select and store serials themselves, and hire abstracting and indexing companies to catalog this material. Within our hierarchy of values, we placed immediacy above ownership, and convenience above preservation. And so, when it comes to serials, the library’s inherent character is compromised: the core values we apply in our other activities, most notably our work with books, are not applied to serials.

This discussion thoughtfully questions the impulse to turn to business models for efficiency and cost reduction by foregrounding all the dilemmas that libraries now face with lack of ownership and control over serials and ebooks. In essence, libraries compromised core values in favor of what businesses tell us is the best way to run things. (You’ll have to read the article for Bonfield’s explanation of what a cargo cult is!)