The Library Ecosystem

Late Saturday night, after the various bar socializing trip during the 2010 ALA Midwinter Meeting, I was sitting on the bed in my tiny hotel room (more on that when I do my recap post tomorrow, hopefully) thinking about the different types of libraries and how they might be interdependent. I grabbed my notepad and sketched it out (this is a cleaned up final version of that idea).

4286696021_e2f26a2572_b[1]Please allow me to explain a few things about the chart.

First, this is a very simple chart of the possible relationships out there. With a tool like Mindomo, I bet there could be more connections made between the different library types. In sketching this out, I went for the idea that felt to be the greatest connection between the two types. I’m sure there are some better ones out there, so please tell me with a brief explanation in the comments.

Second, I’m sure there are a couple of people that thought, “Well, why are special libraries a block on the outside? Where are their connections?” To be blunt, it’s not that they are not connected, it’s that the diversity in the types of special libraries is such that it would be hard to pin down a connection to each other type of library. I wanted to include it on the chart (to acknowledge its existence), but I was hard pressed to make it work. So, there is it.

Third, whether my connections are right or wrong, I truly believe that the different types of libraries really do depend on each other. Academic libraries provide the greater depth and breadth of scholarly knowledge to which the public and school libraries rely upon. Public libraries provide broad support for the curiosity that fuels the inquiries made at the academic and school libraries. School libraries provide the crucial building blocks for a lifetime of literacy in both scholastic (academic) and recreational (public) information seeking skills.

As a greater community of librarians, we really must not lose sight of what the different types bring to the table. Without public libraries, would school and academic libraries have the resources to sufficiently cover personal non-erudite inquiry? Who would act and advocate for information access for all? Without academic libraries, where would scholars delve into deeper meanings of accumulated research results? Would vast archives be relegated to those cities and communities that could best afford to collect and store it? Without school libraries, who else will represent our ideals of intellectual exploration and inquiry to the upcoming generation in their formative years within the walls of the school building? Teachers are bogged down by instructing towards the test standards and administration is smothered by education regulation.

I believe that our fortunes are not singular but collective; and that when one type is threatened, all types are threatened. When a public library closes, the impact is felt in the local school and academic libraries as they will bear some of the load that puts them slightly askew from their mission. When an academic library sees its funding cut, the public library takes on collegiate inquiries that go beyond their available resources and school libraries lose out on more advanced materials for their gifted students. When school librarians are removed, the public library loses an onsite literacy advocate and the academic must expend time, money, and effort to provide basic inquiry skills rather than focus on more advanced ones.

The words of Benjamin Franklin come to mind here.

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Recognition is in order that all library types count. In a year that will be heavy on advocacy, no library is insignificant. Everything is connected and we should act accordingly.

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Hi Andy,
Thanks for the little diagram, good food for thought on the interconnections within the industry. As a former special librarian, I'd like to chime in on my own experience interacting with other library types. I was an engineering librarian and when I received requests for materials we didn't have I would check out both public and academic libraries. I would occassionally search databases available via the public library and on one occasion I visited a local academic library to use a database with onsite access only. Unfortunately, I rarely reciprocated services to other libraries, but special librarians, especially solo librarians, are very willing to help out other solo special librarians. Hope that helps you flesh out that diagram more.

Tom Nielsen