Geeks and Nerds Battle for the Soul of Librarianship

Perhaps the most pressing issue facing librarianship is one that is unlikely to receive serious scholarly attention. It is, to put it simply, a battle presently being fought between two camps of librarians. Some may cite generational conflict as the primary conflict in librarianship today; baby-boomers representing traditional knowledge of librarianship as well as bibliographic knowledge, and GenXers representing facility with technology. There is some truth to that picture, but it is primarily a distraction from the real conflict. That conflict, I submit, is the battle between geeks and nerds.

“Geek, nerd, what’s the difference?” some might ask. Well there is a definite difference; in fact there is little overlap between the two groups, although there are a few characteristics in common. I will summarize the traits of geeks and nerds for you. I may offend some people in doing it, but if you want to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs.

Typical traits of a geek:

  • Very techie
  • Identifies with science
  • Into science fiction, fantasy, and/or cyberpunk literature
  • Possibly into live action role playing games
  • Possibly into BDSM
  • Possibly into graphic novels/manga, etc.
  • Knows how to program a computer and does it often
  • Has a blog
  • Interested in popular culture
  • May or may not have done well in school

Typical traits of a nerd:

  • Reads a lot: philosophy, serious literature, science, history, academic subjects
  • Unusually excited, passionate, worried and/or earnest about intellectual matters that most people find boring or irrelevant
  • Got straight A’s in school
  • Not interested in popular culture, except possibly in a truly anthropological sense
  • Prone to injuries associated with excessive or intense reading

Nerds and geeks both:

  • Are bad dancers
  • Are bad at sports
  • Have trouble getting a date, even with other nerds/geeks

Now you may recognize in my description of a nerd some of the characteristics of a stereotypical librarian. In fact, librarians are traditionally quite nerdy. This has recently changed, however, as a result of an aggressive advance by the geek front within the profession. Now it is not so clear whether librarians, especially younger librarians, are typically nerds, as perhaps they should be, or geeks, as the character of the “biblioblogosphere” might represent us as being.

At this juncture I must make an important point of disclosure: I myself am a patriotic member of the nerd nation. I think librarianship is an intellectual profession, and I think bibliographic knowledge is more important to our ability to serve patrons and students than knowledge of technology. I think that the current advance by the geek front within librarianship is succeeding in replacing an important intellectual knowledge base – that is, a store of bibliographic knowledge combined with knowledge of the principles of librarianship – with a technical knowledge base that is already quite well-established by other professional groups, namely web designers and programmers. Thus, it seems to me that the success of the geek army in the battle against the nerds may end up being a losing battle for the profession of librarianship as a whole, once the bodies are counted, the damage assessed, and the spoils taken.

I say this as a nerd who has made a concerted effort to understand my enemy. I am more computer savvy than most of my fellow nerds. I can do a little programming, and I have not just one but several blogs. In my library job I am exploring applications of new technologies brought into our field by messengers of the geek tribe, and I am not unhappy about this. Geeks have important contributions to make within the profession. The problem is that they want to take over.

Now, if this were a real, non-metaphorical battle, it would be no contest. Geeks are more practical. They are capable of manufacturing powerful weapons. They are also experts at military strategy, having tempered their skills in the fires of all-night D&D sessions. Geeks may be terrible at diplomacy, but nerds are only slightly less bad, and therefore would not be able to pre-empt the great war via the necessary sophisticated political maneuvering. Geeks are also better funded, backed as they are by the deep pockets of the information industry. If it were a matter of warfare, the nerds wouldn’t have a chance against the geeks.

The thing is, perhaps it isn’t a battle, or even a contest. Perhaps it is, or has the potential of being, a rational discussion about the future and fate of the profession and its role in society. In rational discourse, I believe (and I recognize that most geeks, treating everything as a computational question, would disagree) nerds have the advantage. Therefore, the hope of the nerds in librarianship, who represent its traditional values, lies in true rational, professional discourse, rather than in technological pressures backed by finances and fear.

So the important thing, in this situation, is to know where you stand: to know which side you’re on and who your friends are. If you feel like you’re not sure if you’re a geek or a nerd, because maybe you have some of the characteristics of each group, you should begin asking yourself what knowledge and skills are really most essential to librarianship, and what is being done as well or better by other people?

Perhaps there is as yet a peaceful resolution to be found.

45 comments on “Geeks and Nerds Battle for the Soul of Librarianship

  1. I don’t think of myself as a double agent. More of a hybrid:

    Typical traits of a geek:

    * Very techie
    * Identifies with science
    * Into science fiction, fantasy, and/or cyberpunk literature

    * Knows how to program a computer and does it often
    * Has a blog
    * Interested in popular culture
    * May or may not have done well in school
    (see below)

    Typical traits of a nerd:

    * Reads a lot: philosophy, serious literature, science, history, academic subjects
    Heck, I read anything that sits still long enough. And have since I was three.

    * Unusually excited, passionate, worried and/or earnest about intellectual matters that most people find boring or irrelevant
    * Got straight A’s in school

    Well, sometimes. Sometimes a B or two snuck in.

    * Prone to injuries associated with excessive or intense reading

    Like this paper cut?

    Nerds and geeks both:

    * Are bad dancers
    * Are bad at sports
    * Have trouble getting a date, even with other nerds/geeks


  2. It is an amusing construct, but it doesn’t capture the cultural gap that is opening up.

    The postulation of the two camps you have named begs the question of the epistemological stakes in the conflict and the acceptance by both of the self-definition of the “blogosphere” as ‘a world apart’.

    To just hint at the issues involved, I suggest looking at this sample of “blog-speak” taken more or less as the first example that came to hand.

    Here we see, in broadest strokes, the replacement of dialogue with “blogologue”.

    The blogologue has its own norms of expression. These need to be analyzed closely. What follows is a good example of “blog-think” in a response to a posting on the most recent LISnews:

    “What a nice article…. (Score:2)
    by [DELETED] on Friday April 21, @11:22PM (#24829)
    ( [DELETED] | Last Journal: Thursday March 30, @02:05AM )
    What a nice article, the librarian who suggested books that might foster discussion- controversial books- has been cleared by some paper pushing functionary. The professors who were offended, including JF Buckley who said, “I no longer feel safe doing my job,” are now being investigated (probably by the same functionary).

    I hate when I no longer feel safe doing my job because I am scared of a book. We had a display of that rambling Bill Clinton autobiography on a shelf near me in the library and I almost had to go on short term disability because I was terrified that the words might jump off the page and change my voter registration.

    If you are that afraid of ideas -especially ideas that may differ from yours- by all means stay out of the library and avoid those dangerous criminal librarians.

    Farther down in the article it mentions a speaker who believes you can turn a gay person into a heterosexual person through religion (even I don’t agree with that, but to each his own) The GBLT group is going to protest the speech, which is just hunky dory with the people promoting the speech who remarked “That’s their prerogative. This is America.” You know America where people can have different ideas and opinions without being investigated by some governmental functionary (unless they offend someone with their viewpoint in which case they are branded criminals).

    The article segues into a wonderful bit about Julio Pino a tenured professor at Kent State who calls himself the most dangerous Moslem in America ( Apparently the most dangerous Moslem in academia title was claimed by Sami Al-Arian the convicted PIJ fundraiser – you know the PIJ they murder people on public transport in Isreal using teenaged homicide/suicide bombers).

    Pino has published an ode to a homicide/suicide bomber in the Kent State newspaper and according to this fine article he has also characterized U.S. servicemen as butchers who massacre Iraqis.

    It may be the nutjob professor who advocates terrorism, but it is the American soldier who gives a free press and the freedom of speech to do so.

    Thank goodness for academic freedom . Get tenure for treason, get investigated for readers’s advisory.”

    One doesn’t know whether to recommend that this person seek out remedial English/ basic composition/logic or psychotherapy.

    With defenders of “academic freedom” like this, who needs barbarians?

    That this kind of thinking (and I use the term loosely) is revealing itself as what passes for acceptable discourse in the field of librarianship, cannot but be disturbing.

    Intellectual vacuity is elevated by the medium of the blog to the norm of even “professional communities” as in our field. The fact that “geeks” and “nerds” alike take to blogs with alacrity, and that the “nerds” in your formulation seem convinced by the “geeks” that they don’t exist unless they blog, seems to require another explanatory framework that the kind you have(admittedly, humorously) proposed.

    You’ve opened up a serious line of inquiry. It should be pursued seriously and not get caught up in the frame of something like “nerds v. geeks” affably amusing though that may be.

  3. Continuing my remarks in my last response to this post, it occurs to me that the “nerds” versus “geeks” schema is actually another version of C.P. Snows “Two Cultures” thesis, in which Snow counterposed the culture of science/technology to that of humanism/literature. Since its publication there has been a huge amount written on this theme, which is to say, it is hardly a new explanatory framework for the kind of phenomenon with which you are grappling.

    The inadeqacies of Snow’s analysis, highly influential though it was, are legion, even when it is restricted to the sphere of the elites to which he was referring.

    However, I sincerely doubt this is the place to discuss it, as much as I admire Library Juice and the intent of your initial posting. I can’t help but ask: can one actually expect to have an intelligent, informed discussion about such issues in a forum like this or, more to the point, that it would be appreciated by your readers? It seems obvious to me it would be laughably out of place. This very idea makes me believe that this medium, this sphere of communication is, perhaps, inherently incapable of sustained intellectual debate and that whatever effort one expends in attempting it is in vain.

  4. Is this what Stephen Jay Gould called Nonoverlapping Magisteria?
    I couldn’t resist posting this query over at LISNews as I am wide awake in the middle of the night. I heard a ruckus on the porch and thought it was the cat, but it was a racoon AND a possum ripping open a bag of cat food I’d stored there.
    They just kept eating as I watched them through the window.

    Me? Definitely a nerd.

  5. Wait a is 2:37am here now. I don’t know why the previous remark posted at 11:37pm. I know I voted with the nerd camp but I don’t think 11:37 is the middle of the night.

  6. I think that the distinction is more subtle than you list. I beleive that I am the parent of three geeks. Are they nerds? Probably not. My eldest is definitly a geek….he writes code. But he has a fiancee. My other two kids (boy and girl) do not have “signifigant others” but are definitely not nerds.

    More to think on.

  7. I’m making a sweeping generalization that’s not meant to be serious in a sociological sense, but I do think there’s something in it that gets at different attitudes toward the library profession.

    One thing I’ve started thinking about since I wrote it, though, is how “geek” has really become a subculture of its own, beyond just being about coding and the personalities behind it. It includes coding, larping and other rpg, bdsm, polyamory, sca, cosplay, manga, fandom, sci-fi… the list goes on… So “geek” is a subculture while “nerd” is really just a personality trait, it seems to me now…

  8. There are a few others in the fray. For example, the dorks. The dorks don’t really care about the future of the profession – they are in it to have as cushy a job as they can as librarians (in so much as you can have a cushy librarian job). Dorks might be library administrators or they might just be happy to hide out in cataloguing or reference or circulation. They are not themsleves battling for the future of the profession – since they don’t really care what happens to the future of librarianship as long as they are comfy now. But they are a major threat to the profession because they will sell our soul. They don’t have much personality nor interests that can be discerned on the job, so I can’t really tell you if they can dance or not or what hobbies they’re into.

  9. It’s true — the dorks are the dangerous ones. They aren’t interested in popular culture *or* academic thoroughness. They just want to come to work and, well, be dorky.

    I am both a nerd and a geek, but I proudly admit that my loyalties lie with the geek camp. And yet I don’t think that it’s productive for this to be a war. Since so many of us happily overlap both camps, I don’t see why we can’t work together to include both bibliographic knowledge and a love of the changing world in order to improve libraries, library services, and fight against our true enemies: the dorks and the budget people.

  10. Mark Rosenzweig asks “can one actually expect to have an intelligent, informed discussion about such issues in a forum like this or, more to the point, that it would be appreciated by your readers? It seems obvious to me it would be laughably out of place. This very idea makes me believe that this medium, this sphere of communication is, perhaps, inherently incapable of sustained intellectual debate and that whatever effort one expends in attempting it is in vain.”

    I’d answer No. This medium is not meant for debate. It is a news service. Just as the local newspaper, it lacks the same capacity. Letters to the editor rarely fulfill that role. Nor do comments on weblogs.

    That does not mean newspapers and weblogs don’t have a place in the exchange of ideas, just that debate is not a part of their role.

    BTW I can dance. I met my wife doing contra, English country, Morris, and international folk. Does that remove me from both camps?

  11. Fascinating post!

    Joke (my favorite):
    Do you know the difference between a nerd and a geek?
    A nerd is someone whose life revolves around computers; a geek is someone who LIKES it that way.

    I’ll admit to nerd-dom, but I am NOT a geek!

  12. David, there’s a huge subculture of geeks who contra dance. Also, there’s plenty of athletic geeks, although we tend to be athletic in sports such as fencing or martial arts instead of as basketball players.

    And the difficulty getting a date aspect of geekdom is an outsider’s stereotype, not a truth (as should be apparent from the earlier stereotype Rory lists of many geeks being into BDSM, open sexuality, queer culture, polyamory, and just general openness about sexuality — and even happily vanilla heterosexual marriage and children! — are markers of many subcultures of the geek world).

    I would say only the positive traits are useful markers of the subcultures, and the negative traits (doesn’t dance, doesn’t like popular culture) are less so.

  13. Hey David the contra dancer –

    no, that most definitely does not remove you from both camps. If the dorks hadn’t been defined above as being self-serving lame-os (instead of being dorkily excited by nerdy and geeky things, my own personal definition), you might have been put in that camp. As it is, contra puts you firmly in the nerd camp.

    That goes double for English country.

  14. I think you’ve mis-labeled the split, which is generational rather than social or intellectual. The specific technologies you mention are new, which means they are most familiar to younger librarians.

    Tradition is good, but if the new tools are better than the old (and some of them are) then I think it is foolish not to use them to achieve the goals of librarianship, even at the expense of some of our professional traditions.

    “Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
    Nor yet the last to lay the old aside”
    –Alexander Pope, “Essay on Criticism”

  15. There is no replacement for subject knowledge. I agree that the tools can change, and that new tools are often better; however, the focus on tech is also distracting people from the career-long project of gaining bibliographic knowledge. There’s no replacement for that. We are dumbing ourselves down, it seems to me.

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  17. Interesting post. Seems whenever one sets up a dichotomy in our field (e.g., googlelizer vs. resistor) the response tends to be something along the lines of “it doesn’t have to be one or the other, and in fact you can represent both camps.” My colleague John Shank and I have recognized this and developed the concept of the “blended librarian” – an individual that combines the traditional skills of librarianship (the nerd), information technology (the geek) and adds to it the skills of the instructional technologist (design thinking). We advocate that blending skills really is necessary to avoid professional marginalization. Perhaps the danger lies, and this is what seems to be suggested here, in promoting one area – such as information technology – over the others as our salvation. But I agree that at the end of the day if you can’t help people with your subject expertise (or what you might call bibliographic knowledge) you might question what you’re doing in this profession.

    I guess I’m still old school but my standard is DIALOG – if you can’t search it with a good degree of proficiency – don’t call yourself a real librarian. Think about it though. In the 70s and 80s DIALOG probably represented the perfect blend of geek and nerd. It required both technology expertise to use (that’s where many of first put PC skills to use – and don’t forget mastering communications software (e.g., Hayes SmartComm, – and bibliographic knowledge – such as knowing which of hundreds of databases was just right for any type of complex research question. Where are the tools today that require just the right blend of nerd and geek?

  18. Hi, Steven. I heard your presentation about the Blended Librarian on the ACRL/LearningTimes/EDUCAUSE virtual conference last week, and it was one of the few bright spots for me of the conference. I find it a sensible and important idea, but I have some thoughts about it that I think deserve a separate post. Regarding this discussion, while I think it does make sense to talk about balance, it seems to me that most people in librarianship, in my generation anyway, who consider themselves a mix of geek and nerd, really lean heavily in the geek direction if you consider what skills they are focused on gaining. I am all for balance, but to me a balanced profession would mean that there would be as much attention paid in virtual conferences like the one I just attended to subject-specific tools, bibliographic knowledge, and aspects of librarianship that aren’t specifically technological as there are to techie stuff that dominate the scene right now. I think I am the one who is calling for balance, and the people responding to me with the idea that they are a mix of geek and nerd are actually so focused on the geek stuff that they are losing touch with librarianship (though I may be wrong). And an important part of what I am saying that people have not yet responded to is the idea that our geek skills are not special to our field while our nerd skills are…

  19. There are places within the profession to focus on subject and bibliographic knowledge – and also to focus on communities of library users and non users who have been left out all along — even in the questionably “good old days” when nerds ruled. For example, in ACRL the Anthropology and Sociology section (ANSS), the Literatures in English (LES) section, the African American Studies section. And organiztions like Reforma and the Black Caucus focus on both people and subjects. I’m really glad you are bringing up this question because I think the geeks and dorks really have taken the focus away from our core work to the point that some ACRL sections have had programs recently with titles such as “Are subject specialists an endangered species?”. But even when the nerds ruled, many communites were left out so I’m not nostalgic for the return of the nerds.

    A great conference that’s coming up is the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. It is NOT just for librarians of color but it will be a great place to focus on subjects, bibliographic resources and real world people that the future of librarianship needs to pay attention to. See for registration information.

    Oh – I do expect that there will be *dancing* as well at this conference!!! I highly recommend dancing for everyone, including nerds, geeks, and dorks.

  20. Well, taken as if it were intended seriously as a dichotomy, yes, of course it is false. But to look at it that way is to miss the point, Jerry.

    I feel like the fire hydrant of my thinking has just been peed on by the dog of your unhappiness. 🙁

  21. In some circles, a “geek” is anyone with a passion for their subject and the technology of their subject. So it is possible to be a “theater geek” involved in set construction or costuming, for instance. Computers need not be involved. So a stereotypical librarian could be called a “book geek”, especially if they were really into metadata or book construction and repair. The dictonomy (which, as has been pointed out, is probably false) might be between the practical, applied knowledge (geek) and the theoretical (nerd).

    Of course, a geek was, in the early 20th century, a carnival performer, particularly one who did gross or outrageous acts, while, according to the OED, the word “nerd” may have been invented by Dr. Suess (“a small, unkempt, humanoid creature with a large head and a comically disapproving expression”). Aren’t you all glad that the language has changed?

    —Warning: Bad Joke—
    A woman’s lament: “I have a mind, too!”
    A nerd’s lament: “I have a body, too!”
    A female nerd’s lament: “Hello?”
    —end of Bad Joke—

  22. I am aware of that meaning of the word “geek,” but I think it has taken on a newer meaning that refers to a specific subculture of interests. I also think that now when someone says they are a theatre geek they are invoking a lot of associations that come with that subculture, beyond simply the fact that they are very interested in theatre. That’s just my take on it. I don’t think nerds constitute a subculture in the same way.

  23. I think geeks are more influential because they take their geekdom with them everywhere, 24/7. Nerds are more willing to be a nerd in their off-time. Also I think there’s less proselytizing among nerds. So nerds might have greater diplomatic skills, they’re less intense about it.

  24. I’ll throw in my two cents as a hybrid as well. I fit all nerd categories and all but two geek categories. It seems that your point is that the intellectuals should beat the techies. Well, there are some of us who fit both bills. Just because someone knows how to build or program a computer doesn’t mean we don’t have intellectual issues we stand up for. I don’t quite see the point of delineating between the two.

  25. Hi, Sarah

    Well… besides the fact that I’m not attempting to create a dichotomy in a serious way but am trying to say something tongue in cheek, I think my responses to people who are saying the same thing as you explain my position as well as I can at the moment. Beyond that, I think I’ll just have to try to articulate myself better in future postings on the subject.

    Did you read the articles from Progressive Librarian in my follow-up post? I think they say something important.

  26. I still don’t quite believe that links to scholarly literature are very useful in RSS feeds. Most of them are too chatty to easily segue into academic papers. That’s why Rory and I are the only posters in the other thread and as he mentions I didn’t really refer to the articles there (although I did read most of them, I swear).

  27. Interesting thought experiment, Rory. By the way you define them, I fall heavily into the NERD camp, with a 2nd Master’s in German Studies; In foreign languages I have near native fluency in German, intermediate level Spanish, high beginner Russian, and a smattering of French. When I read fiction at all it tends to be literary classics; I mostly focus my nonfiction reading on History (especially Intellectual History), Philosophy, Political Economy, Cultural criticism, books on Librarianship and Library history, etc, etc. I’m interested in Technology, have a basic familiarity with it, but I’m by no means a systems person, partly because I stink at Mathematics, which is a core element of Computer Science (–but at the same time I’m fascinated by Mathematics and if I had the money & means, I’d re-take a lot of math classes so I could do trig and calculus again and improve my basic algebra).

    I also have a strong lay interest the Natural Sciences…grew up watching COSMOS; I really very much enjoyed High School chemistry but was too intimidated to take it in college, so I took biology to meet my science requirements in College.

    I’m trying, bit by bit, to learn more about information technology and how to use it and make myself more “marketable”, as I think my NERD background is a hard sell in the contemporary LIS jobsearch. I’d say there’s probably too many well educated humanists out there competing for too few positions, and the technology edge can really set one apart from the pack, to the point that you can even be less humanistically savvy than average but still make up for it with concrete technology know-how. Those that truly are able to sit in both camps (systems + other library work, either Reference or Tech Services) are in the best position to be in.

    At EndUser 2006 I sat in on sessions on WebVoyage, which is the web-server software that actually generates the OPAC display everyone sees on the web. It wasn’t my direct area of responsibility, but it was fascinating. A little intimidating, but some of the general concepts reminded me a little of what I learned doing BASIC programming on my old Apple II+ eons ago.

    At my last library job, the focus was all on e-resources, especially e-journals, and given the sci/tech nature of the campus, entirely appropriate; but I felt there was so very much emphasis on these materials that the physical book collection was being outright neglected, so I engaged in a little collection development work to enhance the collection, especially updating out-of-date materials and trying to “internationalize” the perspective of our collection a bit more. 100% nerd work. I got several compliments on my book selections, which made me beam with pride. But I also enjoyed fiddling around with getting our NetLibrary records to display correctly in our OPAC, which was a taste of Geekdom. But my Nerd qualities were also at work in looking at the kinds of NetLibrary records we were going to be getting via our main campus…and really questioning some of the relevance of much of the material, vis a vis our more narrowly focused curriculum; do we add these records “just because”, or because they really do meet the information needs of our campus and might actually get used…

    Thanks again for the food for thought, Rory; I always enjoy your essays!

  28. Greetings to this soul searching team. Innernet (no spelling error) has to be always stronger; and that makes the extranet stronger. This is the gist of the wisdom that synchronizes east and west.

    I have something to offer that will, probably, enrich your search.

    My webliography is on Librarians and Techies – A NEXUS.

    Further, to sustain the image of the librarianship I maintain a blog on information visualization. The aim of this blog is to identify Innovative Practices to Connect Every Book, Its Reader and in the ultimate sense lead towards emergence of visual catalogs in libraries.

    As a multifaith blogger, I hope this soul searching spree helps re-vitalize the ship of librarians.

  29. i think there is some definite meeting between the two, as in: nerds who love pop culture and also anthropologize it, geeks who read (and write) anarcha-feminist subtext into their beloved sci-fi and fantasy fictions, geeks and nerds who dance (!) together (!!), vegan chefs with online recipe books who care where their food comes from, zinesters who go online….it’s not necessarily a rigid binary. but hey, binaries can be fun to play with ….

    and yet after saying all this i realize i am a hopeless *nerd*.

  30. I’m definitely a nerd.
    but I have a couple of geek traaits…that’s what I get for hanging out with geeks my whole life.

    only thing is I’m not a bad dancer and I’m pretty good at the more physical (violent) sports.

    but I’m so nerdy I haven’t tried to get a girlfriend yet, but those geeky chicks can’t keep their hands off me…too bad they’re disgusting.

  31. Has anyone else noticed how even though nerds and geeks never follow trends, geeks have their own geek trends and nerds always do the same thing then years after a geek trend has died it becomes a trend for all the trendy people?

    It’s almost as if everyone follows the geeks except the nerds.

    I like being a nerd better though.

  32. If you were serious, I’d say it was an interesting argument, but seriously flawed.

    If we weren’t always fighting for the same batch of resources, I think we could all just get along, and avoid the Us vs Them mentality. The idea of turning the library catalog into a Googler’s heaven turns my stomach though. But then, I’m a cataloger who has also done web work, so I can see the good of keywords and subject description.

    I was a librarian at the EPA Chemical library, until it was closed down to go “virtual”. I have never had love for modernization for modernization’s sake, and this was enhanced when I saw the contractor reports (which I always got requests for) being thrown in the dumpster.

    The claim was that all EPA documents would be digitized in 8 months (SAY WHAT???). I would love to see how anyone is supposed to find anything in that new database, if all they do is scan everything in and enter it by name and EPA number.

    And apparently, the considerable money EPA paid the contractors for those reports didn’t qualify them as “EPA documents”!

    My work at EPA was a split between web site maintenance/design and normal reference (mostly in web maintenance). It was almost impossible, however, to try to convince the managers that librarians were the perfect people to design their web site. We have organizational skills, information architecture knowledge, and some concept of the people who use the site.

    There seems to be this disconnect in people’s thinking: librarians deal with books and old stuff; techies deal with computers and new stuff. The techies, therefore, know best how to arrange this ‘web site’.

    I think it is because many people (especially in administration) don’t understand computers more than they have to. To them, what web designers do is magic and instantaneous. They don’t understand the work and planning involved. (And I’m probably rambling in just the way you don’t like, Rory!)

    My new job (traditional cataloger) is at another federal agency, and I’m finding a similar problem with regards to trying to pry money from those who control it. Many of our users, mostly scientists and managers directly above us, know our worth. They know what we can do for them, and they are grateful. But they don’t control the money.

    That is handled by administrators who never visit the library, don’t have any need for a library (they think!), believe libraries are unnecessary (except for prestige purposes) since everything you need is online, and only see the line-item cost of the library services. These, in my opinion, are the real enemy, the managers who don’t think they need us.

    And the disconnect between the librarians and the good they could do as web designers and consultants is still here too.

    (Should we band together in a war against the budget people and managers?)

  33. In the 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan, Pattern Recognitions (, the conflict Rory Litwin presents is setup more as a generational gap, Baby Boomers vs. Gen X’ers.

    At first, being a graduate student myself, I didn’t question the proposed dichotomy. It made sense to me that genX’ers and those that follow are more open to implementing new tecnologies to reach our patrons. Now that I have had the opportunity to get acquainted with my fellow students, I’m becoming more sceptical that we can define the philosophical difference Rory is trying to bring our attention to. I know students in their 50’s eagerly learning XML and young 20 something students who struggle with basic HTML and avoid learning new technologies as much as they can and still get through school.

    Rory is to be commended for attempting to break it down to something we can name, some difference that we can relate to. What we are really talking about here, however, is a difference in how these two “camps”, if we dare to go so far, perceive libraries and their role as librarians.

    Libraries have been in competition with every new media technology since we first identified ourselves as librarians. And each step of the way, many of us have felt threatened and feared obsolescence. And while there have been deviations from time to time, while we have adapted, sometimes painfully, to our ever evolving environment, our basic self perceptions of our role as librarians and the role of the library itself have remained nearly constant.

    The “geek trend”, represents a disregard for the traditional values of librarianship. It can also be perceived as an emerging trend that is more concerned with information than knowledge. How we present and make accessible the stores of knowledge to our patrons is important, but the underlying philosophy that guides our actions at this point in history may irrevocably change the path of our profession and further diminish our role in the communities we serve. Libraries and Librarians are uniquely situated to mediate and guide citizens on the path from information to knowledge to understanding as far as patrons may wish to travel in pursuing individual interests and personal philosophies. We have so much to lose by pursuing technology for techology’s sake and reacting irrationally to “market” pressures that may or may not have direct bearings on our patronage.

    Many of the library students I know are coming from other professions and disciplines. Most of us are attracted to librarianship because we love learning, books, libraries as places, and yes, sharing our passionate love of learning with others. The ongoing trend of merging Library Science programs with Information Science programs is attracting a new breed of folks who want to use information science skills to get a job. I’m not saying that’s evil, most of us need jobs. Salaries for librarians have been on the rise, even as we have been mourning our impending demise. Where formerly, a potential librarian might have said, “Yes, the pay and the benefits are atrocious, but I still want to do this…(because I love it, perhaps left unsaid), we now have people coming into the profession who formerly might have chosen another field like computer science or information managment. Perhaps they are attracted by increasingly liveable wages, or perhaps they couldn’t compete in that larger fish tank, I don’t know. Somehow, though, space must be made in the Library and Information Science curriculums to expose the philosophies behind librarianship to those who don’t natively possess them.

    Thank you.

  34. What a unique article. By your definition I am undefinable.

    I love reading, always have, and my favorite areas of interest include U.S. military history and Greek and Roman myth. I did NOT get straight As in school, did graduate with honors from HS but fell off a bit in college, mainly cause electrical engineering is quite hard. I am moderately skilled with computers but am no computer scientist by any stretch of the imagination. Popular culture used to interest me (but not the types of popular culture that you all may be thinking of), but now it doesnt AT ALL. Chasing girls is not important to me, chasing dollars is. I am NOT some ugmo, I have been told I am handsome. No, I am not gay. And, um, I run and do abs and weights for exercise and am moderately skilled at the sport of basketball, and can play a little baseball too.

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