Of Librarians and Coal Miners

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We’re going to have clean coal. Really clean coal.”
— Donald Trump
“People still need assistance when they get information on the Internet. We’re the original search engines and we held people find things to make their lives better.”
 — Carla Hayden

Although not as blatant as a now ridiculous old Michelin commercial, which effectively warns you that your wife will be raped if you buy another brand of tires, I recall a similar television spot from about twenty-five years ago. It featured a mother driving on an interstate highway, ominous music and all, being harassed by triple trailer trucks and other long combination vehicles. The message, which was designed to impact pending legislation about maximum truck size and weight limits, just so happened to be brought to you by the railroad industry.

Not much has changed. While searching for a copy of that commercial, I discovered a “grassroots organization” calling itself the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks. Their domain name’s registration street address is for a building that also houses the GoRail lobbying group. Go figure. Other examples of astroturfing and sockpuppets are still as commonplace as fake news. While it’s touching to see how, say, the killing of a few birds by and other purported dangers with wind turbines is of great concern to fracking companies and the like, it’s quite obvious that those sounding such alarms doth protest too much.

Around the turn of the millennium, my library staff break room was all aflutter because two young Questia reps were wandering around outside the building while handing out free coffee to students. They were unwelcome challengers to our business of educating and providing information. Many of us were not only angry but also threatened by the very notion of bypassing the library as a source for research. See also: “library computers are for catalog and database use only!”

Questia didn’t exactly make it big, by the way, although the company is still around. As for me, it’s taken half a career to not necessarily embrace the commercialization of knowledge production and distribution, but willingly accept that as the search process improves, some of what we used to do becomes obsolete. I don’t mean to belittle the at times legitimate gripes of colleagues who insist the old ways remain better, yet it often seems those nitpicking arguments ring hollow and we doth protest too much ourselves.

In the worst cases, the backlash against newer methods comes off as the equivalent of those “rolling coal” trucks made to celebrate hatred for environmental causes. In many situations, we shouldn’t be proud of how people have to rely upon our services. At the very least, I wish we would stop saying the tired refrains of, “but not everything is online,” and, “searching for certain things is cumbersome and requires training” as if those sort of conditions gave us cause to celebrate.

Further Reading

Check out my other posts for related commentary.