Dailykos published a useful short essay by a former harvard librarian, reflecting on the Harvard reorg/layoff news.
I see a couple interesting points here.
Harvard has a famously byzantine library system comprising over forty libraries, and administratively divided into two separate library systems (confusingly called the Harvard University Library or HUL, and the Harvard College Library, or HCL) has changed very little in terms of organizational structure since the late 19th century.
Harvard is not alone here. In fact, I’d suggest that the oldest academic libraries, and ironically especially the old ones that really excelled 80+ years ago, are most likely to have completely dysfunctional organizational structures and organizational behavior today.
Libraries today aren’t the same as libraries 80+ years ago, especially with regard to electronic content we purchase, which has different workflows to manage and different economies to purchase; and in terms of metadata maintenance as well, something which the blog author rightly points out libraries realized the benefits of cooperating/coordinating/sharing many years ago — but sharing cards (or data to print cards) through LC is a different beast than than modern metadata control needs.
I also generally agree with the blogger’s conclusion — but with less optimism:
But second, the importance of catalogers, and more broadly speaking, librarians is not necessarily diminishing into nothingness. The environment has changed radically, and there are sure to be plenty of future “massacre-like” events that will painfully remind us of these changes. But librarians do have a future, and I think it may even be a bright one: they just need to accept that it won’t be quite the same as the past.
I fully agree that there is still as much of a need for the tasks librarians have always done as ever — most definitely and even especially including cataloging/metadata control.
However, despite agreeing with that, I am actually not optimistic, like that blogger is. We are running out of time to demonstrate that our profession, community, and industry is capable of meeting the metadata control needs of the 21st century. We are not doing a good job of it. We do not seem to be capable of changing our priorities, expertise, organizational structures, and inter-organizational collaborative infrastructures, to deal with it.
The traditional goals of libraries have traditionally are still useful and needed just as much as ever, but with different ways of accomplishing them. There is still a great need for an organization specializing in information management on behalf of a user community, and without trying to make a profit off that user community. But I am, sadly, no longer particularly optimistic that libraries as they are are actually capable of accomplishing those goals. However, even in the best of cases, trying will result in some painful organization reorgs — nobody likes change. (It’s of course also possible for painful reorgs to end up entirely useless or even counter-productive, or simply admissions of defeat as libraries slowly die).
Hint: If you or your organization thinks if we can just put all our metadata into RDF as quickly as possible and therefore be “doing linked data”, that this is necessary and sufficient to handle modern metadata control needs — you have not only missed the boat, you are on the wrong boat. I have lately been seeing a worrying increase of people suggesting “oh, we just need linked data to solve that problem”, with “linked data” meaning “the data we’ve already got expressed in RDF”, with a worrying ignorance/disregard for what good data actually entails in the 21st century systems environment.