Homework 2012

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Jukka Pennanen: libraries as producers and publishers

My 26 years of work in libraries has been very inspiring and it has given me much to think about. Not least about libraries themselves. Over the years my experience has increasingly confirmed the view that libraries compete with each other too much and cooperate too little, and this will lead ultimately to the detriment of the entire library field. That’s not all bad news. At the same time library education is losing touch with the everyday work in libraries  – supply and demand are not balanced, or there are different opinions about the needs and areas of development. Library work is very pragmatic, but where are the creative new people who manage the development of library work? Our creativity and our visions have proved to be quite modest despite the wide range of great things we have produced.

The mission of our field is also lost. When asked, we do not know how to fit the traditional role of “organizer of information” together with the needs of experienced users of new technology. I would say that we have lost touch with our customers while we are increasingly intertwined with technology, formats and standards. Many players of the field have also become competitors and enemies to libraries, and this can be seen for example in copyright legislation.

We are missing an overview of the nature of the problems we face, but we still dive into the depths of more specialized technical expertise and deeper knowledge of cataloguing and classification. We are some sort of curious and incompatible factor in the current publishing world. I just cannot believe that the core of the problem can be found in either direction. We have already tried these and we can clearly see that they are insufficient to keep us alive for another two centuries, if even two decades.

These are strong statements, but I believe they are true. However, my homework is to find at least one completely new and different task or role which allows libraries to respond to current change while maintaining functional ability and being able to take advantage of the centuries old tradition. In short, I would like to try to find an answer to a question whether libraries really can act as producers and publishers on a larger scale. At least the role must be somehow connected to the traditional role of libraries and deploy it and at the same time give us access from the current impasse.

Jukka Pennanen
The National Library of Finland / The Finnish Library Association (2004-08, 2010, 2011-12)


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