WHAT IF? The Library Blackout Scenario

January 17, 2012, 6:59 pm

Wikipedia and several other web services are going dark tomorrow. They are shutting down– largely to make a political statement, but I can’t help but feel they are also trying to make a point about their cultural value. College students everywhere are lucky it’s not during prime paper-writing season or else they might be forced to actually use their library’s website.


Library Blackout
The blackout scenario is something that has playfully come up everywhere I’ve ever worked. The conversation (usually at dinner, in bar, or at the end of an outreach planning meeting late in the afternoon) goes something like this:

People (faculty) don’t appreciate the library. I bet if we turned off our proxy (access to all digital content) for a hour then we’d get their attention. Then they’d see just how important the library is to their research.


Inferiority complex, maybe? Irresponsible fantasy, definitely! But this lack of perceived respect is something that seems to permeate throughout the library at various levels. Many outreach brainstorming sessions swirl around this theme: how can we gain respect and/or showcase our value?


As we’ve transferred from a print to digital collection (at least in terms of journals) our perceived clout has diminished. And this appears to be a continuing trend in the digital arena as well.


I interviewed many graduate students who not only didn’t use the library website, but didn’t realize that the library was providing them with access to online content. Many thought it was free or that the University or their Department/College enabled journal subscriptions. This is the information as commodity utility, like electricity and water explanation. And keep in mind that these were wickedly smart students who are our future faculty and researchers. But it’s not their fault that we’ve made access to info so easy and seamless.


So what would happen if say on April 1, 2012 academic libraries around the country turned off their proxies? Would the world notice or would people just think that the servers at Science were down for the afternoon?


Just a rhetorical question—obviously I don’t endorse reckless or destructive behavior—but think about it… what would happen? People in the know would call/email/text a librarian, but what about the rest? Would they be stranded  or would they try and find another (black-market) content provider? I guess we’ll never know…


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