Librarians: a Dying Breed?
By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Will librarians go the way of the soda jerk, telephone operator and travel agent? While libraries are today a vibrant part of the book-industry ecosystem, the extinction of those who run them professionally may be approaching.
According to a new study of the textbook market by Bowker, library information science textbooks generated about 30% less revenue in academic year 2011 (ending in Spring 2011) than in the previous academic year. It topped the chart of “declining” disciplines at this morning’s Book Industry Study Group higher education publishing event in New York.
“It has to be taken into context; it’s a single year,” said Bowker vice president of publishing services Kelly Gallagher, who presented the report. “Is this a long-term trend?”
Gallagher pointed out that students or professors in library information sciences could be making a choice to use fewer textbooks. The statistic was presented in order to give the audience – largely made up of executives at textbook companies – an idea of industry demand.
In a much-discussed May 2011 article in the New York Review of Books titled A Country Without Libraries, Charles Simic wrote, “All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations.”
The article sparked debate on blogs and in social media. Some defended libraries and their role in U.S. democracy. Others declared libraries “obsolete.” Many posts were nostalgia-filled looks at how libraries impacted the author’s childhood.
Even if libraries persist, which they certainly do today (there were 121,785 of them in the U.S. in 2009, according to the American Library Association, an industry group), will librarians persist along with them?
A 2010 paper by Moya K. Mason, a freelance researcher, suggested that librarians with master’s degrees in library sciences are being replaced by “paraprofessionals,” or those who perform the increasingly menial functions that automation has reduced many professions to today. The librarians themselves are training the paraprofessionals to do their jobs, a somewhat suicidal move from an employment standpoint, Mason wrote.
The trope of librarians as a “dying breed” is a familiar one. A Google search on the headline of this article reveals that, indeed, the article has already been written – in 2010 and in 2009, at least. Yet, libraries and librarians are still here, showing a resilience and necessity that the naysayers may not have accounted for.
The American Library Association, queried for an industry perspective on the issue, was not able to immediately respond to requests for comment before press time.
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