Call to Action
February 9, 2009

In a past post, I lamented the ALA’s inaction in advocating for more government funding to be allocated to education and libraries, considering how much was being thrown at the prviate sector from the financial bail out and the first half of the stimulus plan.  Well, they’ve ceased being neutral and have started advocating in releasing this call to action, which highlights the fact that amendment 501 to the current stimulus plan aims to cut $200 million that were to go to libraries.

Apparently, the benefits of libraries in tough economic times are not immediate and tangible enough to our government, which is shortsighted to say the least.  Obviously, those pushing amendement 501 in congress didn’t read this, or this, or this, or any of the other sundry testaments to the significant RISE in library use during this time of supposed crisis.  Perhaps, Ann Patchett is right– per her views in the Guardian article–that the government might better represent their constituency and be altogether more functional if they were to pattern themselves after libraries, rather than deeming libraries and education unworthy of funding in tough economic times.

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Critical Mass
November 23, 2008

“The quality of democracy depends heavily on the quality of the democrats,” [Sergei] Kovalyov told me after the [1996] elections.  “We have to wait for a critical mass to accumulate of people with democratic principles.  It’s like a nuclear explosion: the critical mass has to accrue.  Without this, everything will be like it is now, always in fits and starts.  Our era of romantic democracy is long over.  We have finally fallen to earth.”

When and how will that critical mass accumulate?

—David Remnick, Resurrection, p. 358

Critical mass: if not in these exact terms, isn’t this what libraries attempt to enable?  NYPL’s mission states that their libraries are “everyone’s university,” which, to me, gestures at a collective mission of empowerment, much in the vein of critical mass.

Yet, echoing Kovalyov’s lament above, this idea of critical mass/universality seems less championed by libraries in Russia, at least in being a central element to stated library missions.  Here are the Russian Library Association’s (RBA: Rossiiskaya Bibliotechnaya Assotsiatsiya) goals:

  • Consolidation, support and coordinating of libraries, library associations and schools activities
  • Representation and defense of librarians
  • Increment of the social status and prestige of the library profession
  • Defense of library user’s rights

It appears that, presently, the priority for the RBA is to protect librarians, library users, and the library as an institution.  While all of these goals are extremely important, they are merely basic tenets of libraries.  Further confounding, when I searched the site of the National Library of Russia’s website, I couldn’t even locate a mission statement, which I find baffling.  Perhaps, I am putting too much emphasis on mission statements and codes of ethics, but these are the succinct anthems of library organizations that are widely disseminated—even if they are truly nothing more than a sound-bite, this sound-bite represents the ethos of a library to mass populations.

The ruling power’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the masses and their needs is, sadly, a recurring issue in Russia’s history, as Remnick often points out in Resurrection.  But I can’t help but find it disheartening to see that this emblem has not been clearly combated by the predominant library organizations in Russia.  I am sure that the RBA and the NLR do wonders for aiding every demographic in Russia, but acknowledging and fostering critical mass, everyone’s universality, or whatever you wish to call it is an important issue for which I know Russian libraries can carry the torch.