old v new

This past weekend I watched the film Mondovino which is about the wine industry. It ran about 30 minutes too long, but was still enjoyable. The movie gives the viewer many things to think about, one of which is the dichotomy of old and new. Early, we meet Hubert de Montille, a likable old crank who proclaims, “Wine is dead.” He has made wine in the Burgundy region of France for quite some time and is, shall we say, set in his ways.

The film also introduces us to some new school vinters, the most egregious of which is French wine consultant Michel Rolland. He is presented as throwing technology at any issues that arise. “Micro oxygenation,” we hear him declare repeatedly. The director didn’t mince words (or images) and it is no secret where his heart lies. Hubert et al are presented as passionate, caring, real, romantic, and nice. Rolland and the new school people are glib, pompous, fake, modern, and generally evil.

As the story unfolded I started to do some generalization about the ‘old versus new’ situation found in our libraries, and the perceptions involved.. There are people that are hostile to change and technology in libraries. They privilege print materials over anything else, and they like libraries quiet. This group upholds the value of how old books smell and sitting down in a big chair with one. Lets call them Library Romantics. LRs are like de Montille in the film. I can easily imagine a LR declaring “Libraries are dead!” when observing libraries filled with noisy kids, weblogs and wireless connectivity. To be fair, not everyone that likes to read a book in a quiet spot is resistant to technology, but take a peak at “Is Technology Blowing the Library to Bits?” by Bernard Vavrek (Public Libary Quarterly, Vol.23(3/4) 2004).

The business of librarianship is the development of relationships and trust between the staff and its constituents through the purposeful application of services. Presently, these interactions are being negatively impacted by a profession that is being swept by a tide of circuitous technology.

One more quote from the article. Talking negatively of librarians’ daily tasks he writes:

The author also observed the same librarian…demonstrating the use of Yahoo! Messenger to a solicitious individual…

Right. God forbid we teach people how to use tools with which they can empower themselves.

Other people we can call Library Modernists. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a LM. I can also easily imagine an extreme LM throwing technology at any problem in a library. LMs can indeed be glib (acronyms – ha!), but with any luck they aren’t pompous, or generally evil.

I’m being careful to not call the ‘old v new’ situation a dichotomy, because I don’t want it to be seen that way. “Old library” technologies like books are going to complement “new library” technologies like WiFi for quite some time. Finding the time and money to do both of these things well is a huge challenge. Another part of this issue is our attitudes toward change in libraries. Clearly LRs aren’t going to be agents for change. That’s an important issue by itself, but the attitudes of people that are potential change agents are also important. In thinking about libraries and libraries of the future, of course we must consider what we do and where we’ve been, but is that limiting our creativity? We have no problem working on modern equivalents to things we’ve done in the past (BOCD –> BOiP, library newsletter –> library email/website) but what about things that are truly new?

2 thoughts on “old v new”

  1. It’d be interesting to hear what sommeliers think of the old vs. new winemaking methods. That’s always struck me as a profession which is quite a bit like librarianship. So, I suppose the vintners are like the publishing/entertainment industry, but if they *really* were alike, then the new wines would be completely undrinkable unless you bought glasses with the required Drinking Rights Management built in.

    I disagree with you that “we have no problem working on modern equivalents to things we’ve done in the past.” If this were true, OPACs wouldn’t suck so bad.

  2. Good point. We have all kinds of implementation issues. What I meant to say is that we have no problems feeling justified working on modern equivalents to things we’ve done in the past. I’m not so sure if we feel that justification for other, new, things. If there really is anything totally new.

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