Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Change is Inevitable, Wisdom is Sought

I am struck by the similarities between widely divergent topics of discussion that I’ve experienced lately. As I was driving to school Monday, I was listening to a podcast of “The Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour,” which I’d downloaded (legally!) to CD. One of the featured guests was an African-American blues singer and musician named Bobby Rush. As guest and host were talking between numbers, Mr. Rush related an exchange where a “young lady…about 18” told him “I don’t want to hear about the blues because it reminds me of slavery.” He went on to say that fewer and fewer “black musicians” are playing the blues, while more “white” musicians and audiences are taking an interest in the blues. Mr. Rush’s response was that “Slavery is a part of history. It happened… and you must know about that.” I agree that if we do not know where we have come from, we cannot truly know where we are going.

In a less-profound way, the cataloging and organizing of information is facing a similar turn away from the past. I am currently taking a class on cataloging, and I can see in my classmates’ reactions that AACR2, LC, and Dewey are just something to put up with. A part of me feels the same way as well. With all we’ve learned about organizing data, why hasn’t someone invented a better way to classify and arrange books and other materials in a library? But as I struggle to learn and use the tools we have, I see that, while inconsistent, culturally-biased, and far from perfect, these rules and procedures have real value, and are a laudable attempt to organize something that is determinedly inconstant. As our profession moves to embrace the power of the latest technology -- Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Subject Guide 2.0 -- let us remember to bring forward the lessons learned by Dewey and others. Our profession strives to provide the best and easiest access to any information our patrons want. Let’s use that knowledge and experience to influence and guide the future of information searching. If we do not, we will end up either re-creating the next millennium’s version of the AACR2, LC, and Dewey; or we will simply settle for something of poorer quality, and trading the power knowledge for the vulnerability of ignorance.

1 comment:

Mary Alice Ball said...

I enjoy reading Karen Coyle's blog because she talks about many of these issues. She is a big reader of Melvil Dewey, Cutter, and other influential and long-dead icons in our profession. It amazes me how often an issue we are grappling with today can be informed by voices from the past.