(Somehow I wrote this months and months ago but never got around to posting. Now, on the eve of a new semester which is always hectic and fun and ridiculous in the libraries, I thought it worth posting even if it is outdated -- better late than never?)
CUL (that would be Columbia University Libraries) holds a couple Staff Forums every semester, both morning and afternoon sessions so that as many as possible of us several hundred library staff have the opportunity to attend. (That tidbit of information may seem like overkill, but it plays into my larger narrative here. Have patience.)
I haven't been to one in awhile and so made a point of attending this semester's first forum yesterday afternoon (partly, it cannot in all honesty be denied, for those delicious brownies they tend to serve at these things).
Each Forum generally has three mini presentations, each about fifteen minutes or so followed by a few minutes of question and answer time. Often it's about new technology in the libraries, or new and noteworthy collection development, and so on and so forth. Every once in awhile it's about more controversial stuff (oh, the terrible staff forum that happened in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when CUL was forced to shrink its staff by almost 10%).
But yesterday, while listening to this particular forum's three little presentations, I found myself powerfully moved. What I was reminded of, unexpectedly, is that what I cherish and love about libraries (what so many of us cherish and love about libraries) is their drive to make as much knowledge as humanly possible accessible to as many people as humanly possible
My university co-runs a library storage facility with Princeton University and the New York Public Library. As of now, between these three world-class institutions, there are over 10 million items stored in this temperature- and humidity-controlled preservation-oriented facility, and it's growing every day. Eventually it's expected to hold 37.5 million items, and will be by far the largest print collection in the world.
What struck me yesterday, in part, was the very language that librarians use to discuss their work. They talk about creating storehouses of knowledge, about providing access to those storehouses, about preserving all of that knowledge for future generations.
And the thing is, of course, that though not everyone has direct access to these particular vast print collections, all you have to do (all anyone has to do) is go to your nearest public library and fill out an Interlibrary Loan request. And suddenly, magically, those 37.5 million items (and almost anything else you can imagine) becomes accessible through the vast interconnectedness of the world's libraries.
Oh sure, it can sometimes take a while, but just wait. I haven't had Interlibrary Loan fail me yet. Because, as I've said before, ILL is like a pitbull. And if having all the written words of the world at your fingertips isn't magic, I don't know what is.