By GAIL FINEBERG
Bringing together disparate communities and reaching out to new communities to solve common problems are high priorities for Deanna Marcum, who returned to the Library this fall as associate librarian for library services.
Marcum, who served as the Library's director of public service and collection management from 1993 to 1995, shared her vision for the future with several hundred of her staff of nearly 2,000 in four forums that included lively questions and candid but diplomatic answers.
"You will not be surprised that my interest is in helping disparate communities come together to figure out how we, collectively, will transform libraries to meet the needs of 21st-century users," Marcum said after summing up her activities as the head of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).
"Digital technology figures significantly in the new world, of course, but equally important are the issues of organizational structures, the skills and requirements of the next generation of library staff, and our most basic processes of our daily work."
She said neither the Library of Congress by itself, nor librarians by themselves, can make the transformation that is needed to meet the information needs of 21st-century users. "If libraries, generally, are to continue to serve the purpose for which they were intended, they will bring their many audiences into the discussion about how libraries operate," she said. "You will hear this refrain from me again and again."
Unlike campus libraries, the Library of Congress has to make its transformation to the digital world under scrutiny of the public eye, while serving the Congress as well as scholars and, increasingly, the public. "The balance of serving these important constituencies is one of the most difficult issues this institution will face in the immediate future," Marcum said.
"From my perspective on the outside, the balance between serving scholars who create knowledge and the broader needs of the K-12 community and the general public forces us, collectively, to consider the shape and form of comprehensive libraries of the future," Marcum said. "We must consider what is possible in the digital environment, how we will provide services, and how we interact with other libraries in the nation and in the world . . . we can establish procedures and articulate the values that will form the environment within which decisions will be made and actions taken," she said.
"Make no mistake: that environment will be as much set by the way we staff the reading rooms and build and manage collections as by the way that we choose and deploy technologies," she continued, adding that "everyone of you in this room" has an opportunity to affect the way that policies are implemented.
Before detailing her vision, she thanked her staff for their "warm and generous welcome" and in particular thanked her special assistant Rosa Owens and Director for Cataloging Beacher Wiggins for their assistance.
Marcum outlined seven major categories of priorities:
Building Stronger Connections Between the Library of Congress and the Broader Community
"The country is too big and the information resources too vast for us to think that the Library can work in isolation. But the Library must display leadership through coherence—not control—in an increasingly heterogeneous information world. This means sharing information and expertise and accepting the same from our colleagues throughout the country and around the world," she said.
Reestablishing the Library of Congress' Leadership Role In Describing and Organizing Information
"Our historical excellence in cataloging has been one of the means in which the Library has played a role in bringing order and coherence and it will be important to understand how to move the objectives historically embodied in cataloging rules into a challenging new environment of vast and heterogeneous resources," she said.
Noting that information description has expanded into metadata, Marcum said what a librarian needs to know to describe a work may not be what is required by a machine to process a file. "Both sets of information are necessary," she said, adding it is important to work closely with commercial enterprises, standard-setting organizations, and major research institutions "to understand how we can make a substantive contribution to this complex and evolving discussion and how we can begin to adopt new tools and strategies." At the same time, she said, it is important to remember the value of librarians' traditional tools, such as finding aids, registries, and inventories.
Rethinking the Meaning of Preservation in the Digital Environment
Marcum said preservation has to be more than the work of the National Digital Preservation Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), "as important as [this national initiative] is."
"Preservation must not be considered a separate activity . . . and it has to be a part of every stage of the life cycle of information," she said.
Training and Education of Staff
Learning new skills to meet new challenges is important, and so are continuity and institutional memory, Marcum said. Managers should think in terms of staff development, she said, and staff in line positions "should be ready to identify opportunities to enhance your skills and in doing so to deepen the institution's capacities."
Defining Special Collections of The 21st Century
Noting that much of the Library's intellectual depth rests on the scope of collections, the sheer size of the holdings, and its superb collections of rare and unique materials, Marcum said, "We can expect to continue to collect rare and unique objects, even if they are digital objects."
She emphasized the need to identify audio and visual resources that reflect the output of independent creators as well as the mass, popular culture of the 20th century; to think globally in collecting and processing materials in languages other than English; to collect the contemporary equivalent of existing collections of early broadsides, posters, radio recordings and musical instruments; and to "remain vigilant for important historical manuscripts if we can find them."
Digitizing Information To Meet Users' Needs
Noting that materials can be digitized to protect the originals from overuse or to provide greater access to a broad range of materials, she said selection is critical. "What materials to convert, for what purpose, and for whom are critically important questions. As we allocate limited resources, we need to think in terms of what groups of users may want or need these materials and how digitizing them contributes to the Library's mission," she said.
Making Greater Use of Technology To Provide Information to Those who Need It
Marcum argued that the promise of technology to democratize access to information has achieved "only limited success, partly because the technology itself is evolving rapidly and partly because it has been hard to arrive at a coherent specification of a user's need."
She said it is probably misleading to think of a single user's need. Rather, technology can be used to meet disparate needs of users, for example a congressional staffer, a research scholar, and a teacher planning lessons.
Marcum said these priorities are not the sole agenda. "I know that all of you are involved in work that is important in its own right," she said. "I . . . pledge to be the best manager I can be, one who works with all of you in setting an agenda and finding ways to help you do your work."
She asked for patience and help to learn what she needs to know to be effective. "I am not a miracle worker; I wish I were. I won't be able to solve all the problems that you can so easily identify."
"We share a common commitment to this great institution, and, collectively, we can make it even better," she said.
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.