Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CNN's "The Future of libraries, with or without books"


The stereotypical library is dying -- and it's taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it.

So sayeth John Sutter of CNN who has probably not darkened the door of any type of library in years. Judging from the narrow dark aisle in the accompanying photograph, he set up his shot in an academic or special library. Look at those narrow stacks and the books are clearly not a range of fiction or Dorling-Kindersley-esque brightly colored non-fiction either. No, we're talking TOMES.

Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. reality we have two children's gaming pcs, with a smattering of educational games and the dread Barbie Horse game. Teens and adults do gain the wrath of others waiting to use our public computers by playing games such as Runescape or various card games in the case of the adults.

"Loud rooms" that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet.

Is he talking about our meeting rooms? These are not new 2.0-ish attractions. Libraries have had meeting rooms where people talk and discuss and meet at their own sustainable volume just plain forever.

Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.

Good grief, Charlie Brown. I have three blogs and I'm no "hipster". And isn't that word from the 1950s or 60s? What oily can did this guy crawl out of? I do know a certain *cough* Floating personage who adores Twitter, and who happens to be a librarian, so he's got one point so far.

Unfortunately he scores one more point:

Meanwhile, many real-world libraries are moving forward with the assumption that physical books will play a much-diminished or potentially nonexistent role in their efforts to educate the public.

As far as information resources go, these can be updated so much more quickly in digital format. For the informational and educational purely reference needs of our customers--meaning we are looking for a specific bit of information to answer a specific question-digital can be better. We still must answer questions from verifiably authoritative sources. Some subject areas are not as easy to find valid digital sources of authoritative information. This is something we can and should continue to judge and recommend for people.

Still speaking of educating the public, we have rows upon rows of biography, books on nature and animals, large colorful books on crafts and collecting that people want to take away with them. Books that fulfill the educational needs and interests of our customers are still in high demand.

Libraries 2.0

The arguments for using Facebook and Twitter and other social media and forums-- absolutely we should be conversing and using these as promotional tools. During my brief sojourns on Twitter and Facebook, I found libraries were actually embracing Twitter as a quick way to get the word out, but they seemed less comfortable doing the same on Facebook.

Sutter has this odd statement The one-way flow of information from book to patron isn't good enough anymore. He's been talking about how people get information in his entire article, and it is still a one way street between the person who is tapping out their digital query and the source they find. It doesn't really fit into this paragraph on social interaction.


They're also no longer bound to the physical library, said Greenwalt, of the library in Skokie, Illinois. Librarians must venture into the digital space, where their potential patrons exist, to show them why the physical library is still necessary, he said.

There are people lined up down our sidewalk waiting for us to open every day of the week. For the incredible variety of things we offer, they need help.

They use the public Internets but they are not saavy searchers, they cannot fill out forms, they do not have email accounts, they do not know how to print.

People always need bibliographic instruction, they cannot use the catalog, they cannot see what is checked in or out, after all these years, they do not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and finding either thing often requires us.

Everyone likes reading recommendations. They don't remember the name of the author they like, or they want someone else to read who is just like that author. They'd like recommendations for books to read aloud to their children. The book they want says its checked in but they can't find it. Where are the diet, exercise and dinosaur books?

Do you think people aren't still asking the same questions every single day they've always asked? Sure they're looking for those same bits of information, and we're still there to help. We'd better be there to help. We're a reliable place to go where they can always find help and we're nice to them. We make them feel a bit better about themselves and the world. Some come to us every day, or every week. That isn't changing.

We have more to work with, better tools in some cases, some of the old tools are incomparable. Things are more complex and we're just hanging out and explaining it a person at a time.

1 comment:

  1. If the "sterotypic library" lives in 1958, it should die away. I'm afraid the CNN pundant doesn't keep up. Librarians do. The newer and the "seasoned" librarians I work with are committed to providing information in the most effective manner for the patron's needs. Reading books is still very much in vogue. Book groups adore us; parents can't do without us; students rely on us; community readers are faithful; and new, internet empowered visitors come away (if you CAN get them away) from our dozens of computers happy. Visit my blog and click on the "public libraries" label for a better understanding of a librarian's philosophy of life in the 21st century.