Sunday, April 21, 2013

The library's function in the economic sphere

This week, I have been doing some reading related to teaching a course to MLIS students on Managing and working in information organizations. Some of the readings I have been doing involve the critical theories. Notwithstanding the interesting critical perspectives that I have read, I have a longstanding bias when it comes to library services, that is functionalist and supportive of neo-liberal economy. It is on this subject that I would like to rant on a bit.

Someone once gave me a simple explanation of business theory. Businesses either want to save money or earn money. And it is this philosophy that I take with me to libraries, that libraries are supportive to the economy by either helping people to save money or earn money. While we have a role to play in the public sphere towards supporting democracy and informed citizenship, these higher ideals, if we adopt the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, are secondary when people are concerned about basic economic survival in a turbulent economic environment and global recession. In this regard, the impoverished citizen is more concerned about savings, investing and earning, than in accessing information to make informed choices for participation in the public sphere. Those who are indebted,  unemployed, or even underemployed, need to be provided with information to help them turn their situation around, and I believe that libraries are institutions in a position to do this.

For those of you familiar with the story of Andrew Carnegie, you should be able to agree with me that libraries have been places to support the economy since the creation of public libraries for the masses. From Carnegie's story, I have seen libraries as places that help to create industries and entrepreneurs. Those who are willing to come in and search for information about gaps in the market or documented unmet needs and opportunities, can be in a position to think about new ways to meet those needs or seize those opportunities. In providing such seekers with the space and information to do that, libraries can offer support to budding entrepreneurs (whether in public, special or academic libraries).

For me, libraries function as spaces to reduce the imperfect information that exist in markets. Consumers by approaching the library can be better informed about the goods and services they wish to purchase or consume. Government, can publish neutral information on suppliers and make it available for consumers, as well as information on regulations and compliance by suppliers in the markets to standards. Further, persons can use the library to find information to lead them into becoming members of the labour market or even disruptive entrepreneurs themselves, bringing change, new products and services to the market.

Libraries also employ persons as well as purchase and consume information and technology products, supporting publishing and technological industries. Yet, for me this is the subsidiary role of libraries. Our major economic role should be creating spaces for the public to participate in economic activity, as well as to reduce the imperfect flow of information in markets. This I feel can be an effective defence of libraries to economists and to those administrators working within the neo-liberal paradigm.

No comments:

Post a Comment