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Marc Truitt’s Surprising ITAL Editorial

I admit that when I start reading a journal called “Information Technology and Libraries” at 3 a.m., I’m not really looking to have my mind blown. Not that ITAL hasn’t published many excellent articles, but the sheer wonkyness of even the best writing in ITAL can usually help my mind cycle back down enough to make sleep a possibility.

So I was really surprised by Marc Truitt’s editorial in the June 2009 issue, “ALA and our Carbon Footprint.” The title drew me in, but the disclaimer really made me sit up. “Before proceeding, I want to state very clearly that — as with anything else I write in this space that is not explicitly attributed to someone other than myself — the reflections that follow are my own thoughts and views.”

I thought that’s what was meant by “editorial,” but Truitt goes on: “They in no way are intended to represent the views either official or personal of LITA or ALA officials or employees.”

So what were these views so scary we needed a disclaimer?

For the first half of his editorial, Truitt argues that we in ALA are being piggish (to use my word, which does not represent the views of ALA staff, my next-door neighbors, or the cat in my lap) to meet twice a year face-to-face, something he demonstrates ably by calculating the metric tons of carbon dioxide produced by people flying to the ALA Midwinter meeting. Truitt recommends that ALA offer registrants the chance to purchase carbon offsets.

Well-put and fair enough. I think it’s simply a matter of time before cash-strapped libraries simply drop the hammer on meeting twice a year. What ALA will not do for itself — restructure its revenue model around modern business practices — the profession will do for ALA.

But in the second half of his article, Truitt takes on OCLC, not by arguing that with WorldCat Local it is overreaching, but that it isn’t extraordinary enough; and that (based on comments by a friend of Truitt’s) we needed to get out of the business of cataloging ordinary books, leave that to some not-quite-distinct Amazon entity, and focus on only cataloging rare and unique local materials.

I have wondered, while listening to yet another sales pitch, I mean presentation, about “the cloud,” if the triumphalism of OCLC wasn’t a day — or decade — late and a dollar short; if they weren’t in fact addressing yesteryear’s problem. (If you’re curious about the “cloud,” it’s the place you send your money and your intellectual property rights after you sign a contract with the Big O.)

If Truitt’s thoughts scared some ALA lifers to the point where he had to issue entirely pointless disclaimers, well, good on him. He’s not saying anything we all don’t need to hear.

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