8/14/2015

library management: a monarchical approach, or how Umberto stole my library

It is with a great sense of goosebumps that I begin this post, because it is time travel, the long way round. 

I started this post with this title back in 2014/2015 December/January and it lay fallow for a while because I was dealing with 'stuff' (as you know by now 'stuff' is a technical term for...  stuff)
Now fast forward to this brief port of calm before the terror inducing work of university and actual Work shuffle my brain off - I find myself looking at this title and what's left of the body of the post below and freaking out, because: at the "the mountain place" we discussed this. The similarities between monarchy and library leadership structures, the Librarian Queen or King if you will, who rules all with a wave of her OR his inherently-granted-to-them-by-the-divine right-of-knowledge-management-and-accession-control, er...hands, are not lost upon me, as evidenced by the The Most Boring Book in the World© OR The Most Cleverest Book in the World© , which is same book.
Now that run-on sentence was epic even for me, so let me rewind it a bit and start at the start with the help of visual aids and more words.

So.

If you were to look up Library Management on Google, sift through all the stuff on technical whatsits and doohickeys, you would find nothing on managing people who work in a library.
Here and there you'd find some reference to catalogers but they pretty much manage themselves as long as you don't take away their coffee and listen to them moan about the awful state of the AACR Standards (which is like normal cataloging standards but with less Dewey).
Managing librarians, who are actually people, is something that falls under the general business practice of "managing people". This practice usually goes hand in hand with a set of rules, methodologies and skill set that helps the Manager...
to manage...
"the people" effectively. 
(Um, so everyone got that.)

There are common competencies and skills that one needs to be an effective manager, some are terse some are flowery but they break down quite nicely into these:  
Communication 
Critical Thinking
Diversity Awareness
Emotional Intelligence

For a further breakdown of what all these mean go here

At its most basic these competencies are translatable to most industries and jobs, perhaps with notable exceptions like being the Head of a Crime family, or Crocodile washer but most industries that keep office hours, and have an office or only exist inside of the Viagra addled mind of an Octogenarian dealing with his library problems, adhere to these competencies that define a good manager.

So if this is the competencies that create the good manager within an organization, it stands to reason the organization will cultivate these competencies to create an awesome batmanesque manager of people and processes (or people who ARE the processes) for the good of the organization. Even the most egregious CEO (Donald J. is that you?) will make sure he has a corporate structure, a plan, a framework, a design drawn on the back of a crusty napkin that creates this golden God of a manager. (Or Bat..er manager)

Now we come to libraries. (Please put on your rubber gloves and electrically insulating outer wear due to the random lightning strikes from up high - Once again this my opinion based on "not facts.")

Beardy McBeardysonn and noted author, Umberto Eco, wrote a book called the Name of the Rose. 
He wrote this book on purpose to be a murder mystery at an abbey in the middle ages. He gifted us with a Sherlockian hero, who was British and spoke English until Sean Connery played him in the movie, and then it wasn't English but Scotchish. 

The book was a success, the movie was a success - which is all fine and well when you realise that the stupid book is written to be impenetrable, the last thing you want in a  murder mystery. 
                                                          In fact the book is this:


"So the author's making fun of his readers then," someone might say. "Tons of authors do that."
"Yes they do." I would say back in a smarmy know it all sing-songy voice.
"But really, dear reader type person that only exists in my head - to illustrate this point, you're not looking closer at all, and I really expected more of you, you're a terrible disappointment."
Reader Type Person T.E.O.I.M.H.: Hang on. I only have half the facts here, and you haven't been particularly helpful with explaining, so don't blame me for not being quick, if you're withholding all the information.

 Me: Fine.....I'll explain. But the disappointment still stands.

Using the video as model (required watching now, I would think): The Taunter is the Book, and the idiots outside the walls all tired, bedraggled and flinching from the cows being thrown at them, are Librarians.

(Insert humorous picture here of someone saying Sacre Bleu)




(Thank you)

Eco has this beef with Librarians which he uses Name of the Rose to discuss: 

In the book the librarians are hoarders
Hoarders of knowledge and the power that knowledge gives.
Hoarders of secrets, to maintain that power, and;
Hoarders of their own interests, to maintain their status within the power/knowledge structure. 


Its not a pretty picture, when you deal with the relationship structures which Eco most undoubtedly thinks is standard for a library. In fact it becomes downright horrific; Younger assistant librarians are seen as clueless, and needing to be managed to protect them from themselves because new ideas are blasphemy and advancement only comes at the price of buying into the status quo defined by the Librarian (management).

And even when one tries to fall back on the grand idea of libraries of places of accessibility to knowledge, if you can decipher the signs and know which aisle to walk down, guess again. The library in the book is a labyrinth, (they call it the labyrinth - for pete's sake) and it has its own weird system that is gibberish unless you have a map, which only the librarian has - in his head.
No open inviting place of knowledge exists in the book - its consumed by this cathedral that is designed to keep you confused.

Which brings us to the last little f-you that Eco has for librarians; 
Library Management.
None of this hideous power structure, or status quo-ness or hoarding exists without maintenance and upkeep by people with vested interest to keep everything so ridiculously shitty - is what Eco is saying without the sweary bits.

The Librarian, as authority that controls all the  bits that keep the wheels turning to ensure he stays on top is Eco thinking that librarians are micro managing little monarchs with our divine right of authority given to us by our ability to keep people away from information and knowledge.

Historically that didn't work out so well.










Eco puts the boot in and keeps it on the neck until we librarians, can't stop squirming away.

The final chapters of the book end with a fire, the antithesis to what libraries stand for, our elemental Moriarty. The fire scours the Abbey and its contents reducing our hero to tears.
You can't help but wonder if Eco thinks libraries deserve to be destroyed by fire.
... 
...
However the image of fire as destroyer is also profoundly counterpointed in mankind's history as the fire of creation, the light of wisdom ( a fire that doesn't destroy but illuminates).
Hmmm. (This is not an essay and I can say hmmm if I want to.)
......
Where was I.
Library management. 
The irony of the book is that the fire was caused by the Librarian, in his attempt to maintain his power and his control of  knowledge (of the library and of the magical MacGuffin - a prized book.)

What's striking about the old blind villainous (spoilers - believe me, you'll never get to the end, I'm doing you a favour. After all I know what's best - I'm a librarian.) librarian is that he creates and maintain his power by recruiting those who are believers in his ideology. 


That is a powerful thing, perhaps more so than his total control of the library and its knowledge, he also controls the people that maintain that power.

William Butler Yeats offers up the words that describes the erosion of authority, divine or otherwise: "The center cannot hold"
Well it bloody well can if you have more than one person holding it in place.
The old blind bad guy librarian maintains his people by their belief in his ideology, his belief in control and maintaining the  status quo so his little mini-me's can maintain it after he is gone. Which is how monarchies are built and should be completely irrelevant to how a library functions. Right?
Right?

So here come's the thing.
Its a small thing but not so so small that it won't echo a bit.
Eco thinks this of all libraries, and librarians:

         " Eco's complaints range from the peevish to the profound, from the sometimes
            impossible length of call numbers and the absence or inaccessibility of library
            photocopiers to the latent hostility he perceives in librarians towards the patron ("an
            idler
and potential thief"), or the fact that librarians and not actual users determine
            subject headings under which ultimately the user, often an expert in the field, must
            search for books [8, pp. 240-42]. As one  reads "De Bibliotheca," it is easy to 
            imagine Eco, standing impatiently in some long line at the library circulation desk,
            brooding darkly over the details of the library dystopia ("a good library in the sense of
            a bad library") that we finally meet full blown in The Name of the Rose [8, p. 240]. "
                                      (Taken from Jeffrey Garrett's Article, Missing the Eco. On Reading"The
                                        Name of the Rose" As Library Criticism)


We make our own bad librarians, who build bad infrastructure that warps away good infrastructure that induces competencies that erode while we stand behind that desk.
Like damaged "children" we bequeath our worse traits to our assistants who become librarians and management who in turn for good or ill create their own damaged "offspring".

              "Librarians, Eco is telling us, may fall victim to the same temptations that other 
                mortals might. They may attempt to hide behind their professional
                credentials. They may seek to create a mystery about themselves
                to put the performance of their duties beyond question to outsiders.
                They may react in fear and destructively in times of change. And, above
                all, they themselves may not perceive the contradiction of their ways."

                 (Taken from Jeffrey Garrett's Article, Missing the Eco. On
                   Reading "The Name of the Rose" As Library Criticism)



And unless the library as an organization draws a line and says no, these are not the values that make us librarians, we are not mired in confusing labyrinthine rules enforced by a monarch that resides in an office away from the people that ask us to make things just a little bit easier them.

If  these things:

Communication 
Critical Thinking
Diversity Awareness
Emotional Intelligence

which define good common management practices in a real tangible way are subsumed by a status quo, that is irrelevant, illogical and ideologically bound to hiding the damaged "children" in the cracks of a limping library service, well then, like Eco suggests perhaps we should just burn it down and start again.














  

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