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Archive for May 28th, 2011

“Taiga torch” Courtesy of Copper Kettle. CC-BY-SA 2.0

It’s come to my attention that I am a librarian with a blog. This means that I am obliged to say something about the newest set of “provocative statements” coming out of the Taiga Forum. I could give a point-by-point criticism or analysis of each statement, but other bloggers are already doing it. I could rail against the futility of futurist predictions, but I’m too busy trying to feed all of my printed books to Skynet so it can learn human emotions. I could point out that the taiga is the planet’s largest terrestrial biome, but this ain’t a geography lesson. I guess I really don’t know what to say about the provocative statements and part of the reason is that I still can’t figure out what the hell they’re for in the first place.

The Taiga Forum prides itself on it’s biennial release of controversial statements, though they are adamant that the statements are not predictions; they are merely talking points intended to start important conversations. But, conversations about what? Are these problems for which we must seek solutions? Are these inevitabilities we must embrace? Are they intentionally vague pronouncements issued in a self-congratulatory manner so that a select group of librarians can proclaim, “Look! We started conversations!” All I can tell is that the Taiga Forum loves taking a huge dump on our nachos and high-fiving each other when we lose our appetites. “But, we started a conversation!” is the argument we’ll hear while we reach for the toothpicks, vowing never to invite them to the party again.

Courtesy of OctpusHat. CC BY-SA 2.0

Listen, I’m all for starting conversations about important library issues, but it’s frustrating when a group of leading librarians throw down the gauntlet and then giggle in the back row as we try to sort it out. Where are the recommendations? Where is the analysis? Where’s the guidance? The big complaint I have with Taiga has nothing to do with the particular futurisms they put on the table. My complaint is that they don’t follow through and create a discussion about how we should address the statements. To date, the forum has not given any evidence that their statements are realistic concerns, nor have they fostered conversations about practical solutions to perceived problems. Really, if the last few Taiga pronouncements have taught us anything, it’s that their instruction manual must read as follows:

  1. Make some outlandish claims.
  2. Let librarians discuss how outlandish our claims are.
  3. Remind everyone that these are “just talking points”.
  4. Stay silent for a year as everyone forgets about us and gets on with real library issues.
  5. Repeat.
In the absence of any discussion, analysis, solutions, or other commentary, these provocative statements are meaningless. I think that this is what gets librarians the most upset about Taiga: throwing out “issues” and failing to follow through with solutions. For example, I could easily blurt out some vague premonition that “in the next five years, academic libraries will stop collecting materials in support of the humanities.” In the absence of evidence that this may come to pass, or in absence of a recommended response, what purpose does such a statement serve? It’s as if the Taiga members are simply antagonizing the profession for the sake of antagonizing; they are the library equivalent of the playground bully who tells us to stop hitting ourselves.
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So, here’s my provocative statement: these Taiga statements will bounce around for a month or two and then fade away for a year or two until the next provocation. Nothing important will come of them outside of a few tenure promotions for “professional service”. Like all the previous statements, they are purely rhetorical and bereft of any guidance. If, miraculously, the “Taiganos” (as I like to call them) decide to buck the trend and turn these statements into a constructive, actionable conversation based on real trends and real issues, then I will be a willing participant. Until then, I’ve got these nachos to eat.

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