While I was on vacation last week, I marked a bunch of posts to “keep new” until I’d have time to go back and read them in a way that would do them justice, and this week I’ve been slowly chipping away at my marked list. I’m not done yet, but so far I’ve been really impressed by the amount and quality of the writing that happened that week. Apparently librarians think and write well on the last week of June.
Anyway, one of the posts that I marked to read later was Mark’s post about keeping up. “Why does keeping up always mean looking forward?” he asks. Why can’t it also include looking back to learn from our past.
I’ve always been a big fan of looking back and figuring out why people think/thought the way they do. As a new professional, a large part of my “keeping up” time is spent “catching up” so that I can understand the world in which I’m making my home. In fact, it’s such a big part of my subconscious work (and I think also that of the other new professionals I work with), that I’d argue it’s lack of face time in the library literature does not, in fact, mirror the reality of professional activity. Instead, I think catching up happens in the background, and I think it stays there for a couple of reasons.
First, for those of us that aren’t new, a lot of this stuff is old news, so the newbies among us tend to catch up in private so we don’t bore our colleagues with information we think they already know. (Notice, they may not actually already know, or remember, but who wants to run the risk?) This is precisely the reason I was shy about an essay I wrote responding to a two-year-old article on blogging. It was new to me and I had a strong reaction to it, so I blogged my reaction, but I was pretty sure everyone would be bored by it or annoyed with me for wasting their time with old news.
Both keeping and catching up both take time, too, so prioritizing becomes an issue.
And then there’s the less-functional reason for keeping history in the background: it’s uncool, unshiny. People don’t get speaking invitations for explicating extinct library theories.
I’m not saying that these are good reasons for not emphasizing the library lit of yore. They’re just reasons. And I’m not quite sure why I felt the need to come up with those reasons, but I guess I was intrigued by Mark’s observation and wondered what might explain it. I’m often discouraged with how little “keeping up” I can do in a week/month/year, and I’m naturally disinclined to like change (I know, I know… I deserve 40 lashes with a wet noodle for saying that, please wait while I administer them and explain that I’m not against progress, just against change…) so conversations about these ideas pique my interest.