An ironic concern over net neutrality

In her January piece on net neutrality in Wired Magazine that I have just now seen, former ALA President Barbara Stripling says, “…[W]ithout net neutrality, we are in danger of prioritizing Mickey Mouse and Jennifer Lawrence over William Shakespeare and Teddy Roosevelt. This may maximize profits for large content providers, but it minimizes education for all.” (I found this article linked from Margaret Heller’s informative discussion of net neutrality on the ACRL Tech Connect blog, but that is not what I want to focus on here.)

The comment I have to make about this quotation from Stripling is that it is ironic given the increased focus on popular media in public libraries since the early days of the “Give ’em what they want” philosophy of collection development, pioneered by Charlie Robinson and Jean-Barry Molz of Baltimore County Public Library in 1979. This marked the beginning of collection development guided primarily by circulation stats, and it had the effect over time of stripping collections of materials deemed elitist and of interest to a limited number of patrons. It had the effect, really, of prioritizing Mickey Mouse and Jennifer Lawrence over William Shakespeare and Teddy Roosevelt. This trend has been in place for a long time and public library collections have been reshaped by it. I have never liked this trend, because I believe in the educational function of public libraries, but in my experience most public librarians really do not, believing that our role is not so “top down.” So this particular objection to net neutrality (and there could be others) lacks authority coming from the leader of a social institution that made the same baleful turn decades ago. Stripling may believe in the educational role of libraries as I do (I don’t know), and she may share my disgust at the way public libraries have developed since Charlie Robinson had his major influence, but I have not heard her offer the same argument regarding prevailing collection development policies as she has about net neutrality.

I apologize if I am unfairly focusing on a statement made in passing, but I think it does reveal a certain hypocrisy among the library community at large if we are so concerned about net neutrality favoring the interests of popular consumerism over higher cultural values when we are unconcerned about the same problem in our libraries.

One comment on “An ironic concern over net neutrality

  1. Rory, I think your point about the degeneration of educational role of public libraries is largely correct. It is, however, no surprise to me as every institution in our society is vulnerable to the pressures of incorporating popular culture into its operations. I see this happening in subtle ways in academic libraries too. What seems like a mania for incorporating the most modish technology and pedagogical methods too often seems to serve the high tech industry more than our students. This is not always true, of course, but much too seldom do I see academic librarians and others in academia asking how significant are the problems being solved by huge transformations in our teaching methods and what costs are involved.

Comments are closed.