Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Decisions and revisions

Do I dare
disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock

Thanks to the economy, more than a dozen schools and programs, including two Ivy League schools and a prominent medical center, have instituted hiring freezes.

Cornell won't hire new faculty members from outside the university through March and has halted all new construction for at least 90 days. At Brown, the president announced a freeze for staff and administrative...

Go, A. (2008, Nov. 7). the paper trail: More schools impose hiring freeze. U.S. News & World Report, from http://www.usnews.com/blogs/paper-trail/2008/11/7/more-schools-impose-hiring-freezes-2.html.


I wonder how many news stories now begin 'In these uncertain times,' or some permutation of that phrase, or how many rest uneasily upon such a base.

This morning I read, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reference to yet more schools freezing hires (or as one Florida university prefers it, at least a 'heavy frost.' News of a 16% budget cut for Florida is echoed elsewhere, by decisions to do this, or that, to take a coffee spoon's worth from here or there, to melt away through attrition, to halt purchases of materials in the library (and oh, how dolorously familiar it all seems to me after 20 years in libraries, how inextricably downward-spiraling losses must be!)

Reading all this I am driven to look away but cannot. I am haunted by it, by 'what ifs,' thinking about - well, now what do I do? That's the starting point for my thoughts, I admit - me, me, me. And then I think we may all be haunted by ghosts of unemployment lines, of professors selling apples and pencils, times that have shaped the nation and the world.

How has it changed us? If we can point to the Sputnik era as a starting point for upsurges in university hiring, science-focused education from the bottom up, and increases in library budgets - what are we not saying about harder times, and their effects upon these things?

After I get done with these speculations, or set them aside, I think about those subtler things - among them, evidence-based practice. If we know that some of the primary barriers to research in library settings are time and lack of resources, it may follow that in a recession, these commodities will be increasingly more scarce. If there is a heavy frost on hiring at the library (and we all know this math, don't we?) then staff do more with less of both time and resources. It would not be a good time to subscribe to LISA, or to free up just two hours per week for full time staff for research efforts. Add to this that we serve others whose own resources may have shrunk.

There are places my mind does not wish to go with this.

But it seems to me that this is a time when library associations, and the larger university LIS programs, need to lead more strongly. I had heard that once upon a time, MLA offered research mentors (in fact, I know they still do), and that very few people took advantage of this program. This is a time for collaboration, and we are now technologically more capable of boundary-crossings than ever before. In Second Life, more than 1,000 librarians from all types of libraries have been talking - for several years now - about what it means to work in a virtual space. We've been engaged in discovery about one another, and benefiting greatly from that ongoing conversation.

I want to connect the dots here.

We need strong leadership to emerge, and a new focus on collaboration: let's all learn more about how we can help each other through. As we do so, the future will be shaped. We knew it was coming anyway, right? At the same time, there has been much talk about the aging of the profession, and about the need to enlist younger people to carry on as older ones retire. We will welcome them to environments altered by cuts and heavy frosts, and they will arrive with paradigms and perceptions of their own.

Let's talk about how we can offer students new opportunities to practice in settings that range across all types of information environments. Let's invite students to those conversations, so that we begin now to work toward transition in a collaborative mode. Let's attend to new visions, rather than closing out the dark, from fear or our faltering complacency. If EBLIP is about moving from an expert opinion mode toward one that is more transparent, we all (all information environments, all levels) need to be a part of this conversation. Leadership will (or should) belong to those who think about how to build bridges across the boundaries we have created within and between our present-day spaces.

Our universe is (again, again!) disturbed; it is changing with or without our participation. Meanwhile, we have these new voices...

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