First, let me get this out of the way – libraries are not in competition with tech companies such as Google and Amazon. You only need to look at the search results for “what really happened to dinosaurs?” to know Google isn’t doing the best job answering reference questions. And sure they might not be “evil” but they sure as heck are “good” (and even they know it). And they might be masters at mining your data but if you need any form of tech support, say if you are locked out of your Gmail account, unless you’re Robert Scoble you are going to get a big ole FU, actually it will be worse than that, you will be completely ignored because they do not care about you. Let me repeat that; they do not care about you. See where libraries might not be in competition with a for-profit company like that?
But I digress I started this post for another reason. I want to talk about the issues with library employees and the competition mindset.
First, let’s talk about your professional librarians. These people earned a master’s degree (or two) in order to take a $30,000 a year job with so-so benefits. Now there are many reasons that people work where they work, and I don’t want to go down that path but if you do check out Drive by Daniel Pink, but it is safe to say that it isn’t the pay or even the benefits that motivate them.
It is something tied to the instinct role of libraries whether that be in a democracy or in the communities they serve or the populations they serve. Those ideals are probably embodied in one or more of the tenets of the Bill of Rights which include intellectual freedom (which includes the right to privacy) and censorship. Tech companies do not care about these at least not in the same way. As for non-MLS staff, one only needs to look at how Amazon treats its workers that don’t have an office to know that is a practice we do not want to exemplify. (and even those with an office it seems)
By adopting the attitude and mentality of tech companies in the belief that libraries must compete with them, we are throwing away what makes libraries unique. Not only that we are also throwing away what makes libraries a unique place to work. While I firmly believe that libraries should be able to offer benefits and pay similar to those provided at tech companies we simply cannot do that. To be clear, I am not saying benefits and pay are the only reason people work at tech companies. I am saying that in the process of following the false need to compete we may be destroying what makes libraries unique not just for their communities but for their staff as well.
Amazon’s only purpose is to sell you goods to make a profit. Googles only purpose is to mine your data to make a profit. The idea of the libraries built upon those two tenets versus the library bill of rights is chilling.
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