Book Review (Part 4/4): Ecology, Economy, Equity

Henk_300Ecology, Economy and Equity Book, Part III: Sustainable Librarianship in Practice has four sections and a lot of challenges for librarians and a section worth slowly reading, discussing and considering how to act on these ideas. The first section deals with the challenges of technology and corporate power in the library. Henk clearly states that much of the suggestions in the earlier sections are easier to accomplish than this last part where we are looking at larger system,  power issues and often things indirectly related to people’s daily lives – often overlooked are the consequences or important results of these decisions. In this section she dives into the digital library and Open Access movement to combat the expensive, exclusive, publishing behemoths (three publishing companies own 42% of all journals now!). The idea of enclosure of information is critical to understand – previously shared resources, not at prohibited costs with  barriers to access.   A simple example starts with a public university researcher, writing up their results for tenure and to share or advance their discipline, paying a commercial entity to publish it, and then the same university having to pay for access to the material. Henk also notes from the research this notion of disposable people – technological and economic barriers to access the information that is needed and should be readily available for use. An example she gives is the high toll libraries have to pay ongoing to access electronic materials from publishers on an ongoing basis – materials in the past were previously owned (perhaps in paper format). She also notes the shift from library control to these webscale ILS and discovery systems where we turn over our control and access. Companies can decide they do not want to work with a competitor and the result is we (our uses) do not get access to key journals since our ILS is not friendly with another vendor. Libraries are loosing our value added capabilities and now more of a marketer and trainer of vendor products.

The next section is on curbing corporate power. The power imbalances she already covered leds us to this section where Henk offers some ideas and considerations on how to curb this power. Awareness is a start and advocacy is important. We need to work with these companies but can we look at the “good guys” in publishing, those with more sustainable practices or the smaller companies to support. Henk offers two paths – directly confronting vendors or working through our political system, through advocacy and action; the second path is building a new system through open access or open source projects. Mandy supplies some good steps for advocacy through library organizations, nonviolent actions, and boycott ideas, giving some well known examples so check out this part of the book for more details.

The third section is on resolving the technology dilemma. Starting out she comments on what always bugs me, why aren’t people in the world paying attention to this global critical issues of climate change. Using research she explains the various forms of denial and “it’s not pc to discuss” syndrome especially found in the US. With lots of researched facts and information, she offers ideas on what we can do through library advocacy, writing and presenting on the topic, pushing our large library organizations to make some real changes. I believe we are slowly moving ahead in this area – the new Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) of ALA founded in 2013 as one such step.

The last section is on the visioning of the sustainable library. Librarians tend to be practical in nature, but creating a new vision is something we should be doing, dreaming of possibilities and actions we could take and voicing this publicly, not hiding behind “its out of my control.” I believe this is the crux of the book as a whole.

Conclusion/Action Items: This book allowed me to consider ideas I had not thought of, actions we as librarians could take, questions to start asking, processes and workflows to rethink. This book would be the perfect read for a group of librarians or for a workshops or conference or sustainability committee to share, discuss and act upon. I hope my blog posting on the content I found in the book, helps continue the dialogue and more librarians will find this book, read it and encourage others to do the same.

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