Sigh. I really don’t want to have to write this post. Because I don’t want to come off as this woman:
And yet I’m going to write this post anyway. A post where I defend the right for libraries to exist. Why don’t I want to write it? Because I wish people didn’t continually assume libraries were becoming outdated and old fashioned and, well . . . useless. Why am I writing it anyway? Because important people keep writing articles like this one:
It’s hard not to imagine a future where the majority of libraries cease to exist — at least as we currently know them. Not only are they being rendered obsolete in a digital world, the economics make even less sense. One can easily envision libraries making their way to the forefront of any budget cut discussions.
(Yes, I noticed that Siegler craftily tried to cut me off at the pass–saying that librarians can’t write to defend their buildings and careers. Well, he does a good job at ignoring what I do, so I’ll do a good job at ignoring his ban.)
In his defense, he puts up an automatic shield against criticism, saying that libraries may cease to exist as we currently know them. However, he goes on to admit he hasn’t stepped into a library building to use one since college. So when you read that little “as we currently know them,” you need to understand it as “as I used to know them.” And that’s basically what his article (and all the other articles like it that have been written over the years) boils down to:
Public admissions by smart people that they’re woefully ignorant about the things they’re writing about.
What if I hadn’t been online in a decade or more, and I decided to write an article about how the internet was dying? Imagine all the wonderful arguments I could use to support my case: abysmal download times. The lack of interaction. A confusing swamp of hyperlinks. No easy way to navigate it. The awful cacophony of modem connection sounds. The evils of AOL. (And then made a big note that modern bloggers weren’t allowed to speak up in defense of the internet.)
My article would get laughed off the face of the net faster than you could say Anonymous.
And yet that’s what Siegler–and so many like him–had the audacity to do. Dismiss something they stopped caring to understand, because they assumed they no longer needed to understand it. Look at the graphic he used to depict libraries:
I’m as big a LOTR fan as anybody, but . . . really? What if I wanted to argue against the need for a military, and I used this little pic to support my claim?
Then noted that modern generals better not write in to defend the military?
Can you see why I’m a tad frustrated here? Why I think the guy–whose articles I often read, and who I agree with on my other points–really ought to have rethought his argument a bit before he made it so lengthy and public?
Libraries don’t “have to change.” Libraries have already changed. If you haven’t stepped inside one in over a decade–and actually used it–then you’re missing out. That’s a personal problem, and it’s not the basis to attack libraries themselves.
Ironically, libraries exist to solve the problem Siegler so wonderfully illustrates in his op/ed piece: ignorance. They’re there not to be simple arbiters of leather-bound books. They’re there to organize information and help you find it and use it more effectively and efficiently. In this age of the internet, where tons of new information and data is flooding the globe every second, could someone please explain to me why people who are trained to navigate and sift through all that information are no longer necessary or relevant? Yes, we have Google. But remember–Google exists to make a profit. It makes money from advertising. It’s not some shining white knight here to rescue us all from ignorance. Let’s face it. Google is the virtual equivalent of this:
(Okay. That was a bit of a low blow. But sorry–I’m a little agitated at the moment.)
I don’t know why I bother. So long as we have people out there who refuse to use libraries as they are now and insist in thinking of them how they used to be decades–or centuries–ago, we’ll continue to have articles written like the one that’s gotten me riled up today. No matter how many studies are done that show how beneficial libraries are to civilization itself. No matter how much we point out that libraries help create equality in society, granting information and access to those who otherwise would have none. No matter how innovative we become.
We’ll still have troglodytes who insist on tippy-tap-tapping away at their keyboards to let the world know of their ignorance.
So should I just give up? Leave them to their small mindedness? I can’t. It’s not in me. And why isn’t it in me? Because I’m a librarian. Asking me to let people just be ignorant would be like asking a doctor to give up on making people healthy. We see sick people, we want to cure them.
Even if they keep insisting they’re not sick.