Old Tricks Made New Again
In his electronic serial Library Juice, social activist librarian Rory Litwin wrote recently concerning an effort by a group of librarians to provide non-traditional reference services. The purpose of such reference services is to provide answers to â€œradicalsâ€? who would be protesting at the Republican National Convention in New York City. Although hailed as a bold step forward, the effort by the â€œRadical Referenceâ€? group can best be considered the baptizing of something old and passing it off as innovation. During the 1997 general election campaign that brought Tony Blair to power as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the British Labour Party used computers for a similar purpose. Although not feeding information to protestors, the fabled Excalibur computer system has been reported in multiple media outlets as being used as a tool then to rapidly respond to candidates of the Conservative Party (then in power under John Major). The system was brought about by present Hartlepool Labour MP Peter Mandelson. Mandelson is a former cabinet minister who is now expected to be joining the European Commission as its trade commissioner once the new commission takes office later this year. The system proved its worth as Labour candidates were able to rapidly respond to their Conservative competitors and win a massive majority in the House of Commons as well as the power to rule that comes with such a majority. Excalibur, although described by Mandelson as not much more than a news-gathering system, was deemed to be a tool of â€œNew Labourâ€? that helped bring about its success in the campaign. Using a system reportedly derived from Slashcode, the group of reference librarians volunteered to provide questions and answers to protestors at the Republican National Convention. Questions and answers revolve around topics such as the laws of the United States relative to governmental propaganda. Litwin himself wrote that he thought that during the convention the site would revolve mostly around legal issues faced by protestors on-site. Just as much as Excalibur helped Labour candidates respond to their Conservative competitors, Radical Reference is helping protestors respond and react to the happenings of the convention. With the use of technology, a seemingly monolithic entity of librarians appears to be in existence. However, such is not totally the case as Radical Reference is only but a small part of that world. Through the enabling of todayâ€™s computer technology and new innovative resources, the work of a few librarians can appear to be much more than it would seem to be in person.