Wolper article on 60th anniversary of the Military Libraries Division

This orignally appeared on Wolper Subscription Service’s blog.  Thank you to Adrian Shanker and Wolper.

SLA Military Libraries Division Celebrates 60 Years

Posted on August 13th,2013 by

Eight years after the end of World War II, the Military Libraries Division (DMIL) of SLA was founded. Today, the division is about 200 members strong and includes librarians from many different types of military agencies as well as publishers and vendors that serve military libraries.

Military libraries have always worked with a unique set of challenges, including the need for highlighting technical and foreign publications often within strict budget constraints, a need for online access with multi-site licenses (which is often more expensive than simply purchasing a single print subscription) and the reality that many military libraries are managed by solo librarians rather than a library team. Budget is another major concern. “Military Libraries: Their Roles and Importance,” a 2006 report published by the Military Family Research Institute, noted that “librarians cited funding as the biggest concern for delivery of quality library services.”

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Military Libraries Division, we spoke with Division Chair Michael F. Moore:

What are the unique challenges that military librarians deal with?

One of the unique challenges that military librarians work with is the variety of needs of the military with librarianship. There are many different needs that are filled by military librarians. We are often wearing different hats and, when we get together, the conversations run the gamut because we all do so many different types of jobs. SLA has many different divisions, most of which are based in different fields, but the Military Libraries Division is different in that we have lots of fields with one type of customer.

Another challenge military libraries have is the need in the military for the restriction of information. Getting the clearances we need to provide the research the military requires is an important task many military libraries are engaged with. It’s one of those more obvious concerns but, several years ago, we had a challenge when thumb drives were banned by the military. Military libraries had to deal with this. How do we get documents to people who are behind a certain firewall and can’t use thumb drives to transfer data? It’s a challenge we are aware of because it’s something we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

The military imposes other security-related restrictions, too – for example, on software that we can use. When we are trying to share information through webinars or meetings, we often times find that some of our members can use one meeting program or another, but not everyone can use the same program – which is a challenge.

Finally, when the person in charge changes every three years or less, military librarians have to continue to justify their value, and people move in and out of military bases very frequently.  Often many people who become decision makers on bases aren’t familiar with the value of military libraries and librarians. We have to constantly remind them that without military librarians, their research and information needs go unfulfilled.

What’s different between military libraries and civilian libraries?

There are really more similarities than differences. Within the Military Libraries Division, we have people who fill every type of library job including medical librarians, law librarians, academic and research librarians and base librarians which are similar to public librarians. We have all of these types of librarians in the military. The difference is really that we have a very specific customer base that we are serving, and we need to work within the military hierarchy.

Can you describe the value that military librarians bring to the country’s military effort?

There are so many different values that we bring.  I remember one of the librarians at the Marine Corps University who taught officers how to do research.  We remind our end users that they wouldn’t go into a battle unprepared – similarly, they need to make sure they have the research and information they need.

If the military didn’t have military librarians, they would need to hire people to do the job. The work of military intelligence, the work of services to military families, the work is there whether there are military librarians or not – and military librarians are the best people to fill these jobs.

What is the social network for military librarians (LinkedIn, blog, Facebook?) and how would you characterize it now and for the future?

The Military Libraries Division has the divisional mailing list, and that’s really the most active social network that we use. We are also active through LinkedIn and Twitter, and there’s a lot of discussion that SLA has on Twitter, but a lot of the connections on work-related things happen on the division mailing list.

Many military libraries also provide resources to military families; can you talk a little bit about that?

Most military bases have multiple libraries, including a technical or research library for the military itself and then a base library to serve the spouses and children who are on the base. It feels a lot like a public library, offering a “third space” for the community – a space where military families can get together outside of home or school. These libraries help people find jobs, help people find interesting books to read, help people with homework. It’s very much like a public library serving people on the given base.

Looking to the future, what do you hope for 15 years from now, at the 75th anniversary of the Military Libraries Division?

My hopes include passing the Military Libraries Division on to the next generation of military librarians who can continue the great work that is going on. I am cognizant of the pendulum swing of funding, and I hope that in 15 years we will be on the upswing, with a lot more people being hired. That’s my personal hope for the future. I have a strong expectation that military librarians will be at the forefront of the changes in technology that we are going to see in the next 15 years. We’re going to see even more changes in the next 15 years, and military librarians are the best people to keep up with the changes and to help people manage those changes in technology – helping people to keep a hold on the information they need, no matter how it is presented.