The origins of, and motivation for, this book lie in the belief that a wide range of intellectual and practical problems associated with library services are caused or, at least, exacerbated by inadequate understanding of what is involvedin brief, by inadequate theory. In this chapter, some examples of these problems will be briefly reviewed. Later, after the components of a theoretical framework have been examined in Parts II and III, these same problems will be reconsidered in Part IV.
Bits and pieces of librarianship
Many quite different sorts of activities take place under the general umbrella of librarianship. For example:
- The principles of indexing and information retrieval have been studied in an abstract, formal way. The notation of logic is used to formulate the problems and statistical techniques are employed in experimental studies. 1 Since retrieval is central to library services, examination of the basic nature of retrieval can be regarded as fundamental to library services.
- Since the essence of a library service is providing books2 to be read, it is only natural to consider what messages are being read and what the probable effects of reading them are. For example, stereotyped images concerning the nature and role of particular groups can easily be found. Well-known examples are books which consistently portray boys in roles of leadership and girls in subservient roles. Similar patterns with respect to age, ethnicity, profession, class, and national origin are not difficult to find. The issue is not so much whether such images reflect past roles or not but, rather, where stereotyping exists, whether it may have an affect in reinforcing attitudes and beliefs which tend to limit individuals' ability to fulfill their potential. In consequence, if one's social values lead one to disapprove of these effects, then the indentification of such patterns and the assessment of their effects become important. 3 Literary criticism and social psychology are suitable ingredients in such studies.
- From a different perspective, one might argue that actually making books physically available is central to library service. To do this, one needs to study patterns of book useand of failure to find books. Further, one needs to assess as quantitatively as possible the probable consequences of taking various logistical steps to increase the chances of books being vailable when sought. After all, what use is a library in which one cannot find the books one wants? Measurement and mathematical modeling are called for. 4
- Elaborate cataloging rules are needed if the complex range and variety of library objects, e.g., newspapers, books, slides, magnetic tapes, manuscripts, are to be made accessible in a systematic, coordinated way. Some have title pages, others do not. Some have clearly identifiable authors, others do not. The interrelatedness of these objects can be quite complex. The revised Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR2), 5 generally adopted in January 1981, extends to over 600 pages. Since bibliography is not a rigidly structured area, the revision represented a major intellectual undertakingas did the preparation of earlier codes. Even the consistent application of the codes is, in itself, a non-trivial task. Yet, the catalog is the key to the library. Relevant expertise includes a thorough grounding in bibliography and some logic. By way of illustration, the Paris Principles6 and Wilson7 can be cited.
- In library management, a very heavy emphasis is usually placed on experience Management is not generally regarded as an activity for which the reading of a textbook provides any very adequate preparation, although there is little doubt that reading can be helpful, especially when done in conjunction with experience. This is true, more or less, of all fields of management. Yet, there are aspects of libraries which exacerbate the unstructured and, therefore, unsystematized nature of management:
- management specialists have concentrated on commercial rather than public service situations;
- librarians and professors of librarianship have tended to concentrate on books, bibliography, and retrieval rather than on libraries in general;
- there is no dominating criterion of effectiveness for library services comparable with profit in the commercial sector;
- library services are commonly support activities for some larger organization; and
- librarians often have severely limited managerial discretion.
For these and related reasons, one tends to fall back on discussion, on the analysis of cases, and on attempts to transpose to library contexts what is asserted about management in other contexts. 8 Yet, the management of library services should not be lightly dismissed. Its very unstructured nature, which makes it difficult to analyze, also makes it hard to do effectively. If library services are to be provided, they have to be organized and managed. Further, a very large proportion of the managing has to be done with and through people, since library services are highly labor-intensive with salaries normally accounting for more than half of the budget.
- Books are not the only objects found in libraries, but they do predominate, and older books tend to be accessible only through libraries. However, to understand properly an older book, considerable knowledge of historical bookmaking techniques is needed. For research in the period 1480 to 1800, in particular, printed documents are primary sources for most disciplines. Several questions need to be asked about this evidence: Are there variant issues of this book? Which version was the original one and which were later? Were the later versions corrections or corruptions of the text? Was the book printed when and where it says it was? To answer such questions one needs to understand past techniques of papermaking, typography, composition, printing, and binding. (The account of the detection by Carter and Pollard of "first editions" fraudulently fabricated by T. J. Wise provides a fascinating illustration of this.) 9
- As labor costs rise and computing costs decline, the prospect of using electronic data processing in the massive recordkeeping inherent in library service becomes increasingly attractive. It is, however, a rather specialized field of application and unlike scientific computation or most business data processing. The emphasis is on sorting, storing, and displaying rather than on computation. The internationally standard format for communicating bibliographical data (MARC II) provides for a wide variety of data elements ("fields") which can vary greatly in length, may contain letters and accents as well as numbers, and, indeed, may or may not be present for any given book. Not only are individual records long and complex, there are also often a large number of them. As of 1987, the OCLC On-Line Catalog Library Center data base in Dublin, Ohio, was providing access in 6,000 libraries to 15 million records, 10 and the growth in other data bases available from other sources has been equally remarkable. Such systems call for substantial specialized expertize in planning, analysis, costing, programming, and computer and telecommunications technology.
These seven examples are only some of the varied facets of librarianship. One could continue, but the examples already given should suffice to demonstrate two features of librarianship:
- These activities are, in fact, quite diverse. They call for different sorts of skills, and they are likely to attract different sorts of people with different sorts of interests and different sorts of backgrounds.
- The relationships between these facets are not very clear. In each particular example, one can make a plausible case for its importance, but what they have in common is a lot less clear. Their interactions, let alone any interdependencies, are less obvious.
The combined effects of these two findings is that it is all too easy for specialists to understand and to value their own area. Tolerance of other specialists is desirable but it is the understanding of other areasand of how they relate to one's ownwhich is important for effective achievement. In the face of variety, as depicted in this section, what seems to be needed is a conceptual framework within which the interrelationships can be comprehended.
Some fundamental problems in library service
In the previous section, we explored some of the variety of librarianship and argued the need for a conceptual framework to provide a unifying force. In the present section we identify some basic problems in the provision of library services. Only a small selection of such basic problems is considered. The criteria for inclusion were twofold: a belief that the problem was of importance; and a suspicion that it was insufficient understanding of the nature of the problem (inadequate theory, one might say) which caused them to remain problematic. If only one had clearer, deeper insights, then maybe each would cease to be a problem.
Why do libraries differ?
Traditionally, libraries have been divided into four groups: academic, school, public, and special (i.e., specialized and usually in support of industry or public administration). How they differ is not a mystery: one can recognize which is which. But explaining why they differ has not received very much attention. Another sort of difference can be observed between libraries of the same type in different environments. The traditional library service of a German or Austrian university does not resemble a typical North American university library service. Public library services also vary from country to country: in some places they are valued as a bastion of freedom and democratic survival; 11 yet Lenin, his wife, and subsequent communist leaders have seen libraries as an important tool in engineering the triumph of Marxist-Leninist communism; 12 and, in some countries, even some quite wealthy ones, public libraries remain curiously undeveloped. Are these various differences merely accidental?
Why aren't libraries used more?
In the study of the use of library services, there are ambiguities concerning "wants" and "needs." One can understand a user wanting (i. e., desiring) something that he or she needs (i.e., which would solve some problem). However, it is less clear why users sometimes do not seem to desire something they needat least they may not desire it enough to take action. This can be unsettling for librarians who are uniquely situated to know how the library service could be used to satisfy that need. Hence, users are occasionally believed by librarians to be ignorant or idle in the face of opportunity. Mooers' Law (or, rather, dictum) states that: "An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it!" 13 This is somehow unwelcome to those who have worked so hard to make information retrievable. How are desires and needs to be distinguished and, more usefully, how are degrees of desiring and needing to be predicted and assessed?
How should catalogs be evaluated?
One uses books in libraries, but first one must find them. For this, retrieval systems are used whether catalogs, indexes, or subject arrangement on the shelves. The question naturally arises as to how effectively the retrieval systems are working and whether some other system might work better. What, then, is the proper measure of retrieval performance? The simple answer is that books are cataloged and, therefore, retrieved by their attributes. Usually this reduces to what they are "about" and whom they are by. But this has its limitations. One might not know (or care) who the author was and the "subject" (what it is about) also has its deficiencies in practice. An aspect of pharmacy, for example, might best be studied in a book that is not primarily "about" pharmacy. Even a book "about" that aspect of pharmacy might contain only material already known and, therefore, of no new benefit to the inquirer. Instead, it has been argued, the utility of the retrieved book to the reader rather than what it is "about" should be the criterion for evaluating a retrieval system. However, this raises additional problems. Not only does it become important to define, measure, and predict utility but a more fundamental problem arises. We are basing the evaluation of the retrieval system on factors (notably the utility to the users) which are extraneous to it and independent of the retrieval systema seemingly impossible (and unfair) feat. So how should retrieval systems be evaluated?
How big should a library be?
One might reasonably have expected that the question of optimal library size would be a central issue in the extensive literature of librarianship, but it is not. Quite the reverse. There is some literature with a rather thin theoretical base on minimal sizes for some sorts of libraries, 14 and there is a widespread (though not unanimous) consensus that "bigger is better." There has been very little direct discussion of optimal library size. Why so little?
How do libraries survive?
Another intriguing paradox concerning library services has to do with their adaptability and survival. Two basic assumptions in systems theory are that survival depends on adaptation and that adaptation depends on feedback, on information about what is happening so that the organization can know when and how to adapt. However, library staff are often not in a situation to know whether users have found what they are seeking, let alone what they needed. In other words, libraries are often unable to obtain the quantity and quality of feedback that appears to be necessary for adaptation. Hence, one would expect crises and inability to survive. 15
Nevertheless, libraries do survive remarkably. Not only that, but they are popularly viewed as tranquil, crisis-free places suitable for the employment of quiet, retiring persons. How is it that library services survive while being apparently weak in the mechanisms supposedly necessary for survival?
What constitutes “library goodness"?
How does one know whether one library is better than another, or that a given library is currently improving or degenerating? Can there be a single, usable measure of library goodness? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
This short selection of problems covers some interesting and important issues: Why do libraries differ? Why are they not always used when they might beneficially be used? How should one evaluate the central process of retrieval? How big should a library be? What is goodness as applied to a library service? These questions can hardly be said to be about insignificant details in the provision of library services. Yet, in each case, it could be asserted that the issues are not well understood. In other words, our comprehension of these matters is insufficiently developed to provide enough insight either to provide a coherent theoretical basis for practical action or to demonstrate that the answers are unknowable.
Go to Chapter 3
1 As examples, see B. C. Brooks, "The Measures of Information Retrieval Effectiveness Proposed by Swets, " Journal of Documentation 24, no. I (March 1968): 41-54; and M. E. Maron and J. L. Kuhn, "On Relevance, Probability, Indexing and Information Retrieval," Journal of the Association of Computing Machinery 7, no. 3 (July 1960): 216-44. (Reprinted in Introduction to Information Science, edited by T. Saracevic (New York: Bowker, 1970), pp. 295- 311.)
2 The terms "book" and "document" are used here and elsewhere (unless stated otherwise) as generic terms to include all library materials: monographs, serials, periodicals, newspapers, and other formats.
3 See, for example, F. M. Blake, The Strike in the American Novel (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1972); G. M. Bataille and C. L. P. Silet, eds, The Pretend Indians: Images of Native Americans in the Movies (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1981); R. Preiswerk, ed., The Slant of the Pen: Racism in Children's Books (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1980).
4 For example, see P. Kantor, "Availability Analysis," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 27, no. 6 (October 1976): 311-19; and M. K. Buckland, Book Availability and the Library User (New York: Pergamon Press, 1975).
5 Anglo-American Cataloging Rules Prepared by the American Library Association, edited by M. Gorman and P. W. Winkler, 2nd ed. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1978).
6 International Federation of Library Associations, International Conference on Cataloguing Principles, Paris, 1961 (London: Organizing Committee of the International Conference on Cataloguing Principles, 1963).
7 P. G. Wilson, Two Kinds of Power: An Essay on Bibliographical Control (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1968).
8 R. D. Stueart and B. B. Moran, Library Management, 3rd ed. (Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1987).
9 T. Carter and G. Pollard. An Enquiry Into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (London: Constable, 1934).
10 OCLC Pac-News 29 (September 1987): 4.
11 M. Owens and M. Braverman, The Public Library and Advocacy; Information for Survival. (Commissioned papers project, Teachers College, 5.) (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Office of Education, Division of Library Programs, 1974.) Note also the slogan on the current (1983) U.S. 4-cent postage stamp: "A public that reads. A root of democracy."
12 B. Raymond, Krupskaia and Soviet Russian Librarianship, 1917-1939 (Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979); S. Simsova, Lenin, Krupskaia and Libraries (London: Clive Bingley, 1968).
13 C. N. Mooers, "Mooers' Law or Why Some Retrieval Systems are Used and Others Are Not," American Documentation 11 (1960): 204.
14 V. W. Clapp and R. T. Jordan, "Quantitative Criteria for Adequacy of Academic Library Collections," College and Research Libraries 26, no. 5 (1965): 371-80; R. M. McInnis, "The Formula Approach to Library Size: An Empirical Study of Its Efficiency in Evaluating Research Libraries," College and Research Libraries 33, no. 3 (1972): 190-8. Other writings on library size include: K. D. Metcalf, "is It Possible to Pick the Ideal Size for Large Research Libraries?" in International Congress of Libraries and Documentation Centres, Brussels, 1955 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1955), vol. 2A, pp. 205-10; M. D. Cooper, "The Economics of Library Size: A Preliminary Enquiry," Library Trends 28, no. I (Summer 1979): 63-78; D. Gore, ed., Farewell to Alexandria: Solutions to Space, Growth, and Performance Problems of Libraries (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976).
15 Cf . "…organizations could not survive if they were not responsive to the demands from their environment," J. Pfeffer, and G. R. Salancik, The External Control of Organizations (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 43.
Go to Chapter 3
Copyright © 1988, 1999 Michael K. Buckland.
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