Santa Does Maslow

By Karen G. Schneider | Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Remember Maslow's hierarchy? At the bottom of the pyramid were the most basic needs… at the top, self-actualization. In between were concepts such as self-esteem, respect, family, and security.

We in LibraryLand are scattered all over that matrix. In upstate New York, there's an anecdote about a crusty rural library director—you know the type, in sensible slacks and a gray cardigan, the kind of practical garments you don for work when you have a job where in the same hour you will shovel snow from the front step, barcode a pile of new books, check out half that pile to the neighbor down the street who's been calling every half-hour for them, and get on a ladder to change a light bulb—who listened carefully to the spiel from the fancy-schmancy vendor making a pitch for the automation system the director's consortium was considering. The system would do this, the system would do that; it was the best thing since beer in cans. The director folded her arms and looked the vendor in the eye. “I'd still rather have a flush toilet,” she said.

I've lived all over that pyramid, so I wasn't surprised by the breadth of responses when I put out a call for "Santa's wishlist" items for this blog entry. I know that your technology needs may not go much higher than a flush toilet, or at least not much higher than two working computers, one for you and one for the public; then again, your library wishlist may focus on a kinder, more gentler Shibboleth (at least in terms of installation) or OpenURL resolvers that can work for everyone.

All I want for Christmas is... a flush toilet. What I tried to do with all the responses—and some were lengthy, poignant, and private—is give them the bird's-eye view. Stepping back, what did I see?

You want time. Sometimes we are blessed with everything except that one hugely precious resource. Time, significantly, does not show up in Maslow's hierarchy; in 1943, the concept of “continuous partial attention” was pretty far away (and so was the constant “ding” of email arriving). In 2006, it feels rare to have a day when we can concentrate.

David Fiander (whose TypeKey profile describes him as "Librarian, Unix Software Analyst, Misanthrope") commented wistfully that he wanted time to read the books that would enrich his work; time to finish big projects; and time for those special backburner projects, “which are what keep me interested in the job while I'm working on the big institutional projects.” Time was also high on Darla Grediagin's list: "time for me to finish all the projects that I want to do"—and adds, "if I was greedy and asked for two gifts, a self cleaning desk is definitely second in line."

Then there's the joy of working in a clean, well-lighted database. Amanda Robertson, whose library inherited a dirty database, sighs, “If I can have a couple of extra gifts from Santa this year, I'd also like my database to be appealing, professional-looking, and efficient, and I'd like one full-time paraprofessional so I could actually get something done for once.” Millie, who wrote me about her desire for a more lovely MARC, clearly hangs her stocking near Amanda's.

May come in handy to heat the library Speaking of OPACs… what I want for Christmas is a big stick, so I can do serious damage to vendors who call themselves "innovative" and then, as Miriam reported, charge extra for adding spell-check to their product when this feature should have been there ten years ago. A lump of coal to you, III: charging for spell-check as an "add-on" is only nominally less egregious than the vendor who once tried to charge my Former Place of Work extra for producing valid HTML code. No library should have to pony up for an "improvement" available in any basic search engine.

But the fact that Miriam B. would really, really like to see her catalog have spell-check is wonderful indeed; what a gift it is to work with such service-oriented professionals. Joshua Neff and Andrea share Miriam's ethos; they'd both like to see an OPAC that doesn't require user training, isn't limited to books or other older media, and is integrated well with other services.

In a similar vein—and on a very basic Maslovian level—a number of you would like "IT" to either provide support or get out of the way so you can provide it yourselves. Miriam has to go home to run Perl scripts needed to support basic library services, while Libervermis wants what a lot of libraries got in their stockings last year or even the year before: blogs, instant messaging, and wikis. Libervermis says, "What is really frustrating about this is that we're not asking them to adopt untried technology. Other systems are using these technologies, individual libraries in their system are using them as well. We have the know-how, and the willingness to help the system, but this has fallen on deaf ears."

Then there's Phil Shapiro, who says he "works as a public geek at a public library in the Washington-DC-area" and had a very long list for Santa, which includes Tim Berners-Lee stopping by the library occasionally to give Phil a break from answering Internet questions. The gift I'd like to see Phil get—zooming up to the pinnacle of Maslow's pyramid—is for the Macarthur Foundation "to establish a new grant program for library tech people that far outshines the size and scope of the Macarthur Fellow awards." Phil adds, "Actually, I'd like the Macarthur Fellow awards to go 2.0, with much greater community participation—with 500 people chosen each year. Naturally, we'd have to slim down those 500K awards, but win-the-lottery-style awards are so 1.0 anyway."

No Christmas stocking would ever be complete without a surprise, and LibraryThing's “Unsuggester” (discussion here) is a delightfully startling technology that explores the question, “What books DON'T occur in the same libraries?” For example, the night I ran this search, the top "unsuggestion" for Silent Spring was "Desiring God : meditations of a Christian hedonist." Obviously, LibraryThing's BookSuggester may have more immediate appeal, but sometimes a new idea, however quirky, meets our needs best of all—and sometimes, if you can't have time, money, support, or services, there's always room—and sometimes, a need—for a good book.
Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,