The rearview mirror effect

Look how far we’ve come

Image of rearview mirror on 1970's model truck, reflecting the desert and skyImage Source

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Buckland’s (1992) Redesigning library services: A manefesto for the pure entertainment around seeing how well the author predicted the use of digital files, as well as thought out how efficient technology could make library resources for our users.  What was interesting to me were how many ideas Buckland (1992) had around digital files that we still have not implemented using current technologies.  Sure we have PDF files that are searchable thanks in part to OCR, but jumping back and forth between the library catalogue and files still isn’t nearly as seamless as it could be.  Certainly not as he describes it in the Electronic Library section:

“In an on-line world the user could move to the table of contents by depressing a key, then on to examine a chapter. Next the user might want to look for specific terms or names in the index, on-line, then move to specific patches of text, again on-line. Since the text is on-line one could expect a concordance providing access to all of the text. The user might abandon that text, follow up a reference (from inside the text or from a citation index) to another text, go back to the catalog records to look for another book, or scan the subject headings with a view to reformulating the search. There would be a continual changing, “zooming in” and out between a broad view and focus on details. It is not that the familiar data elements of the catalog record will have disappeared or that the identifying and locating functions are any less important, but rather that the catalog will effectively have disappeared as a recognizably separate, physical entity. Instead, the catalog data would be part of a much broader set of data elements and the catalog function would have become one feature in a suite of related functions in on-line library use” (Buckland, 1992, p. 40).

Buckland (1992) also foresaw the significant investment that library vendors (publishers and software) would have in the future technology.  Often using the phrase “in practice” or “in theory” when describing sharing of electronic documents or databases could be done by multiple users at the same time.  It is mostly in theory because in my experience, vendors aren’t super eager to share without some type of monetary exchange!

And look what we’re still doing

Overall, reading Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service by Casey and Savastinuk (2007) provided a dose of inspiration I certainly needed of what is possible in a library to remain relevant to users and also engage staff in the mission. Change is constant, but it is very hard to accept constant change.  Stability is greatly needed in our library right now after a long period of staffing changes, retirements, and vacancies.  I have already shared the idea of the Three Branches of Change model in Chapter 4 – A Framework for Change with my fellow management team members and started to discuss what components we could potentially implement in our library.  We’re reviewing committees in our library right now, and finding that many exist without charges, membership definitions, and chairs that have any type of formal authority.  Without these structures in place, how could we expect committees to implement change that is relevant to the mission?  Exploring the idea of an investigative team is extremely interesting to us, and one we will most likely modify and employ in the next year.  If we don’t change, we will keep experiencing the same challenges.

One final takeaway from Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) work was regarding technology.  I felt that Chapter 6, Incorporating Technology, was definitely a place in time chapter, which really, any one who writes about implementing technology will face since it evolves so quickly.  However, a takeaway for me when I removed the software names and suggestions was a extremely significant advance in sharing technology since 2007, which I believe we can use as a takeaway.  That takeaway is what technology are we investing our resources (financial and people) in that will be obsolete or free in the near future.  The example of Sharepoint (pg. 77) led me to this takeaway.  How expensive was Microsoft’s Sharepoint, and how long was it in use in many institutions?  Are there software that we are investing in now, that in 10 years will be replaced by a more user friendly and price friendly option?  Shouldn’t we be evaluating the assumed lifespan of a product before we invest financial and people resources heavily?  It may be that we don’t know and our only option is to heavily invest, but it should be part of the investigative process, and this chapter was a great reminder of that!


Buckland, M. K., Gorman, M., & Gorman, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. Retrieved from

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today, Inc..

  1. @cherylsmay I really like your statement that libraries should heavily research the databases and technology they invest in first before making the huge plunge of diving in without knowing exactly how deep the water is. There are so many databases that are becoming obsolete already because of free apps and websites providing the exact same service. I think additionally, at least with the library system I currently work for, the databases just aren’t promoted enough. Not even big ones like Overdrive and Hoopla. There are so many people who come into the library and can’t believe we have ebooks for free. Perhaps in that research phase to see if the database is worth the cost another phase should be added detailing the promotion of those services on more than just the library website.

    1. Hi @banderson! I hadn’t even thought about the investment in databases. Mostly because we have an amazing person in our library whom constantly evaluates database usage so we can either eliminate or significantly negotiate with vendors about what we’re paying for and keeping. However, that is not the case for many libraries, and certainly one to think about! Thanks!

  2. Hi Cheryl,

    I was also impressed by Buckland’s future awareness. I agree about the need for library’s to use discretion relating to new technology. While it’s important to be aware of new trends, I also feel like libraries have been following and reactive as opposed to leading in terms of adopting new systems. It would be great to see libraries become the trendsetters as opposed to the trend followers.

  3. @cherylsmay I appreciate your point about highlighting software and how quickly things change. Sharepoint certainly was a moment in time! It’s a great idea to pull the software names and lookout the advice/ideas being shared.

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