Reflection Blog #1: Inertia or Momentum?

I will begin with some honesty: I have struggled a bit over these first few weeks to understand what this class is actually about. However, what has crystallized for me this week, and what I think each of the authors of our core texts were writing about across different decades, is the fundamental question of what libraries should be, and more specifically: will (and should) changes in technical capability change the core mission and operation of library service? How and where should libraries evolve, and how and where should they remain the same? I realized that the introduction to this course provided some guideposts in referencing Ranganathan’s laws. While there have been attempts to modernize these principles, I think they remain a valuable starting point for considering the operation and function of libraries within a shifting technological landscape.

The physical experience of reading Brian Mathews’ article Think Like a Startup was, for me, like listening to a horrible scraping sound;  I found myself wincing and whispering “No” several times. Part of my discomfort with his infatuation with Silicon Valley is a product of the benefit of hindsight, but I think more than that Mathews’ assertions clash with what I believe libraries should strive to be. Startups have fundamentally different motivations and imperatives than libraries. The user is not at the center of the services that startups offer, and I think that by praising startup culture, Mathews conflates what is successful with what is good. Lionel McColvin, as quoted in Redesigning Library Services seems to have formulated a response to this idea nearly a century earlier, writing: “If, however, we consider the library as a social force with the power to direct to some extent man’s demand, (or, to use the usual expression, if we consider the library as an educational force) we will not be content to leave demand our only consideration” (Buckland, pg. 50). While I do think that libraries should be adaptable and willing to embrace change, I also believe that they are fundamentally service organizations, and that any evolution of libraries should be driven by a public service ethos. In many ways entrepreneurialism is the direct antithesis of service, and libraries should be wary of forces that seek to shift that primary focus elsewhere.

So what is the Hyperlinked Library? So far, it is partly philosophical and partly technical. It is an ongoing conversation about where libraries have been, where they are going, and ultimately what they should be. Or something like that.


Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto. American Library Association.

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup. Virginia Tech University.

3 thoughts on “Reflection Blog #1: Inertia or Momentum?”

  1. Aaron Joseph Rodgers

    Very good, Aaron. I have to agree with you: while change is inevitable, for a library to change it must be due to its service to the public, and not because of how much technology has changed, or what some people might consider “success” like Mathews did. Evolution is a funny thing, and in the case of the library in order for it to evolve it must do so in a way that would allow it to better serve its users and to enhance its ability to fulfil its mission.

  2. Aaron , I connect with you one hundred percent about that dreaded feeling regarding the start up articles. Through out the reading of that article I couldn’t help remember a book I had previous read which was “Abolish Silicon Valley” by Wendy Liu. In her memoir she speaks about the chock hold capitalism has about innovation and technological advancement within the culture, and how its not really centered around people and their needs but making money. The article, in my opinion held a naive optimism of what start up culture is and the damage it can cause.

  3. @berner So glad you highlighted the McColvin quote.

    I appreciate your thoughts on Mathews piece. I appreciate his insights within the academic library sphere. My take on the Mathews piece is that he was urging librarians to consider the approach to innovation that start ups used but without the focus on profits and commercialism. This from the summary resonates with me: “Startups are organizations dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Feels to me very much like what we have seen in Dokk1 and Anythink.

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