Every once in a while, I read something that just grabs me by the throat. If I’m lucky, it stimulates my thinking, makes me laugh, and prompts me to actually do something.
I recently had such an experience when my boss forwarded a reprint of an article by Maurice Line, whom I am now ashamed to admit I had never heard of. He worked for the British Library and was a consultant before he retired in 2005. “Librarianship as it is practiced: a failure of intellect, imagination and initiative” was reprinted in Interlending & Document Supply (33/2, 2005, pp. 109-113).
He paints a somewhat sorry state for libraries in terms that we can probably all relate to.
“Trying to hold on to unused publications that libraries no longer have room to house, having theological arguments about the contents of catalogue records, and indulging in the numerous other irrelevant, inappropriate or trivial activities of which librarians are so fond, with their unerring eye for the inessential.”
OK. So nothing real surprising there, but I was saving the punchline. This reprinted article is from an address that Line gave in 1983. Since I got it, I’ve read the article at least three times. I am moderately fixated.
I’ve been to two speaking sessions since I read it, and it has become the lens with which I have viewed all discussion—in both positive and negative ways. Negative, because it raises my blood pressure when someone says we are at some sort of turning point. Line seems like a prescient scholar, but very few can telegraph a problem 25 years ahead of time. It makes me want to scream: “The sky isn’t falling, people, it has already fallen.”
“It is criminal to stand by rigid cataloguing codes (even if they were soundly based) if this means the existence and even growth of a backlog of books awaiting processing. If such a stand is made for long enough, it may well prove to be ‘Cutter’s last stand’.”—Maurice Line
On the other hand, Line’s poignant criticism gives me hope because I think we are the midst of a library era of imagination and initiative led by a cadre of intelligent librarians and technologists. To end with Line’s own words, “We have nothing to lose but our mental laziness, our spiritual dullness, our introspection and our inhibitions.”
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]