This week’s title is a play on TechEssence, a great tech blog for library administrators, created by Roy Tennant, to which I am a (too infrequent and currently delinquent) contributor. But it is also homage to my father–he passed away last week at the age of 70–whose patience and impatience has me thinking about technology in the context of his (too short) life and the stories that he used to tell me about his career as an editor for the Federal Register, the U.S. government’s official newspaper.
No one in my family would have accused my father of being patient. He was always in the car with engine running 15 minutes before his passengers, up at 5 a.m. every Christmas morning, and forever impetuous about the pace of his recovery from the myriad of ailments with which he was afflicted.
But he had a bit of enigma about him too. This impatient man earned 150 college credits and remained three French credits short of a degree. He endured his illnesses despite his frustration with recovery. Professionally, he labored with patience for 34 years as a legal publications specialist, applying his acumen for the written word to a publication that (even he would admit) printed some pretty dry material.
This last one he did while both embracing and often dodging new technologies. The man who bragged about “getting out” just before they put a computer on his desk (1991) ironically took the government job by leaving one as an IBM punch-card job trainer for young men in one of Virginia’s juvenile detention centers (1957).
When I once attempted to describe “the digital library” to him, he was reminded of his first government experience with advanced technology. An office was cleared out one day to make room for a large contraption on which employees could place a single-paged document. Five minutes later an exact copy of the document was ready. Wow. Talk about patience. But back then, the copier was pretty cool technology, especially for editors.
My dad’s technology of choice was the U.S. Government Skilcraft No. 1 pencil. His file transfer protocol was an small army of “runners” who took galleys and edits from the National Archives Building (and later K Street) to the GPO and back again. My dad never clamored for new technology (I never did manage to convince him that he would love the Web) nor berated industry for not making advances with more alacrity. The apple must have rolled away from the tree in that regard.
It got me thinking about this new era of impatience in library automation, my so-called hectic pace, and the trend toward manifestos, urgent customer demands, and the rapid onslaught of anything 2.0.
Most days, I too am impatient, anxious, and excited by what often seems like a slingshot forward in library technology. Other days, I feel guilty for berating and implicating the industry that libraries created and deemed adequate for so long. As I have said before, the blame (more rightly, the explanation) should be split equally between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors of the library industry. The worst we can accuse vendors of is squandering our money doing exactly what we asked them to do.
I do think we’re entering an exciting era–one in which a plethora of open source, vended, and blended solutions will satisfy library technology demands, and (more) ultimately serve our patrons.
Manifestos succinctly describe our desires. Bandwagons have more momentum than soapboxes. And as my father might have said, even impatience can make things worth the wait.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]