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From the President: Key Issues Affecting our Profession

As the time for submitting proposals for SALALM 58 gets closer, I am getting excited about organizing the conference. I have received questions about proposals from colleagues in the United States and from some countries in Latin America such as Ecuador, Chile and Colombia. The messages that I have received make me think that we will have a nice variety of presentations related to the conference theme and also concerning key issues affecting our profession.

Reflecting on the latter issue, I read again David Block’s paper entitled: “Where We Are, Where May We Be Going, and What Can We Do There” published in the SALALM LIII proceedings. In this article written in 2008, David says “I am asking readers to consider the real possibility that in another five years neither librarians nor booksellers will be doing the work as it is now done.” Five years have passed and David’s article on the future of libraries in general and Latin American collections in particular reminds me of the great novel by García Marquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. As in García Marquez’s tale, the death of librarianship as we knew it is imminent and the whole community knows it.

Some of the key issues addressed in his thought-provoking article include “access vs. ownership.” On this issue David writes, “…I must reluctantly predict that the days of librarians at multiple libraries selecting copies of the same items and of booksellers selling the same item to multiple clients are numbered.” Indeed! As a matter of fact, the patron-driven acquisition and purchase-on-demand models are being tested and/or adopted in most of our library systems and consortia. On the issue of electronic vs. paper-based collections, David says, “Libraries will not be able to maintain their current hybrid existence. Simultaneous development of digital and paper-based collections and services will soon become unsustainable.”

Certainly! Most library administrators are strong supporters of e-collections for practical and financial reasons. For example, with electronic collections there is no processing, shelving, damage, loss, or physical handling of e-materials. E-book usage statistics can be measured in detail to assist in collection management decisions. E-books may be rented, loaned, owned, or accessible via subscription packages. Referring to the critical issue of the e- book in Latin America, David writes that the “…electronic book has proved something of an oxymoron, as readers have not accepted them and publishers are reluctant to produce them.” I wonder how much longer Latin American publishers will wait to embrace large productions of e-books.

As I start thinking of the organization of SALALM 58 I am reminded of David’s concluding remarks: “I hope that this session will catalyze a conversation and perhaps spawn a working group to examine the issues raised at this panel.” As David observes, “We really should not wait.”

I attended the panel entitled “What Do Libraries Want Now?: Identifying Book Dealer Services to Support New Workflows and Staffing Models.” The room was full of people and, at the end of the session, some of us – librarians and book vendors – looked perplexed, shocked and somewhat uncomfortable as if we had received an unwelcome wake-up call. Five years have passed and David’s assertions are as relevant and thought-provoking as ever before. Our meeting in Miami will allow us to devote time and energy to re-visit these and other important issues affecting our profession.

In addition to the theme of the conference, I am encouraging proposals for papers, panels and/or roundtables addressing the technological changes that are challenging how we work and provide services. SALALM 58 will also include screenings of movies and documentaries coordinated by Teresa Chapa. The committee meetings and affiliated groups will be given time to meet. We will also set aside time to approve the new SALALM Bylaws which are being revised by the Constitution and Bylaws Committee.

My intention is to schedule key meetings without the interference of other simultaneous events in order to facilitate the attendance of all participants. The SALALM conference in Miami will be a great opportunity for all of us to exchange experiences and ideas as well as to revisit and reinforce our common goals. Essentially, the events and activities planned for SALALM 58 will remind us that the statement that Dan C. Hazen wrote about SALALM (published in the World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services) remains at the core of our organization.

Dan writes, “SALALM’s primary concern remains that which inspired its formation: to make necessary resources available to Latin American students and scholars throughout the world. Many of the materials essential for current scholarship remain elusive. The balance of forces in North American libraries and academic institutions likewise continues to change, as a result of both new technologies and political and intellectual dynamics. These shifting contexts will continue to challenge and stimulate SALALM.”

Warm regards to all,

Martha Mantilla
University of Pittsburgh

 

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