[Humanist] 22.500 changes in libraries and institutions?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Feb 3 10:48:50 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 500.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2009 09:46:49 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: changes in libraries

In a Times Literary Supplement article, "The changing role of the 
librarian" (15 January 1971), D. J. Foskett places the developments then 
happening because of the computer into the broader historical context of 
changes in libraries, esp in the 20th Century. He argues that the 
greatest change -- he calls it "cosmic" -- was the invention of the role 
of "information officer". This role, he says, developed out of the huge 
pressures on researchers in industry to produce results, which helped 
librarians to overturn the old model of librarian as keeper of books and 
to replace it with the model of librarian as controller and distributor 
of information accepted as an equal partner in research. This new model, 
Foskett said in 1971, was then coming into university libraries "with a 
welcome that is long overdue but still not quite wholehearted". Foskett 
argues that the same pressures were then at work on young university 
scientists, who, he said, see what their industrial colleagues have and 
want the same.

Something less than welcome to librarians must have happened to block 
this change. In 1992 Jaroslav Pelikan, in The Idea of the University: A 
Reexamination, argued that the change to making librarians and technical 
experts "equal partners in the research enterprize" was long overdue -- 
and a matter of justice. We in humanities computing have seen -- and 
continue to see -- separate and unequal status given to our kind as a 
matter of course. The times are changing, but very slowly, especially 
where tenure rules.

We are not so naive, I think, as to suppose that gatekeeping is not 
necessary. As long as the area of activity in question is unattractive, 
the problem is small, but when it becomes desirable the problem quickly 
grows. Putting aside such matters as laziness and other human weaknesses 
we all share, we know from experience that on the whole rigorous 
training, with the certification which must follow, makes a real 
difference to how one can think and how one behaves.

So, my questions. How does Foskett's story match with reality? If an 
injustice remains, how do we deal with it?

Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

More information about the Humanist mailing list