Being Analog: Creating Tomorrow’s Libraries

J.E. Klobas (The Graduate School of Management The University of Western Australia)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Klobas, J.E. (2000), "Being Analog: Creating Tomorrow’s Libraries", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 216-238.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The blurb for this book describes the author, Walt Crawford, as “always outspoken”. He is certainly pugnacious in this book of extremes, a work designed to prickle and to promote argument.

In his preface, Crawford commends his book to an audience of librarians confronted with visions of an “all digital future”. His target is officials seeking to reduce library funding because there will be fewer print publications. His aim, in this follow‐up to Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality (Crawford and M. Gorman, 1995, ALA Editions) is to help librarians plan for the mid‐term future: “the successful libraries of the new millennium will be complex and flexible, taking in a variety of media and resources and adjusting the mix on an ongoing basis … each library has a distinct constituency, background, and set of expectations” (p. vi).

From this promising beginning, Crawford moves to the first, and least satisfactory, of the four parts of his book. In Part I, Crawford sets up a straw man, the digital Utopia or all‐digital future, and presents arguments to bring it down. (Crawford is so much aware of his straw man that he presents an unsuccessful apologia on pp. 9‐11.) Skip this first part and read Rob Kling’s Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices (2nd ed., 1996, Academic Press).

Parts II and III consist of short sections which present Crawford’s position on the present and future of libraries, users, and information resources. There is nothing new here, but students seeking to understand the breadth and complexity of modern librarianship may appreciate the simple classification, and teachers will find among the author’s pronouncements plenty of arguments for students to debate.

The 48 pages of Part IV convey the greatest value in this book. This part begins with “The circle of sharing: Why cataloguing still counts”. On this, Crawford, with his experience at RLG, is an expert – but then, he lets us down with no mention at all of OCLC and their recent initiatives. There is a useful, but brief, review of potential partners and allies within and outside librarianship, and an equally brief overview of some initiatives that libraries can take in a digital publishing world. Everything is so superficial, though, that I can’t help thinking of the book that could have been written to this outline.

What recommendations can I make about this book? It is inexpensive. The author is well recognised, and several of his earlier works are widely cited. The sections and sentences are short and punchy. The last few chapters could act as useful prompts and checklists for librarians writing strategic plans or planning new initiatives. On the other hand, there is little acknowledgement of a library world outside the USA, Crawford’s early argument is empty, much of the book is superficial, and the style is frequently aggravating. Judge for yourself. If you’re looking for a little industry‐based entertainment, or want to see if the chapter headings contribute to a current planning initiative, borrow it. If you are a teacher seeking ideas to stimulate student debate, consider setting it (with guidance) as recommended reading for able students. If you manage a library whose clientele includes senior librarians or students, order a copy.

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