The Library Isn’t Dead Yet
Posted June 12, 2011on:
I love libraries. The idea that I can go into a big building, wonder the book shelves and then pull a random book and learn about something entirely new just makes me giggle. I love books. But these types of libraries are going the way of the dinosaur. We don’t need to go into libraries anymore. I haven’t since I was in undergrad doing esoteric research on corporate culture. For anything short of books published in the 1960’s, you can probably find all the information you’ll need online. And by now, those 1960’s books are probably scanned in, as well.
This reasoning, that everything is now available online, is what is jeopardizing the jobs of 86 Californian teacher-librarians. Basically, the schools are running out of money and need to get rid of something – and libraries are it.
The thing is, if they classify these librarians as teachers, then, as teachers, they will get all the rights associated with their seniority, and can’t be fired quite so easily as just delivering pink slips. They would be able to transfer to other positions as classroom teachers. So, the argument going on in LA is whether or not a librarian is a teacher, and the questions they’re asking seem to revolve around whether or not they take attendance or similarly nit-picky details that do not prove anything.
This reasoning misses the point of what a library really is, because libraries should be the last thing they get rid of. A library is not just a place where information is stored. It is a place where research skills are learned. I remember once asking my mother what a librarian did. She replied: “They teach you how to find information.”
When Seth Godin sketched out his view of the perfect future library, he said:
The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.
Well, Seth, this library is already here. Okay, maybe not the soldering iron bit, but that is what librarians like, Rosemarie Bernier, do. She teaches her high school and middle school students how to find information online, how to tell if information is useful, and how to simply access the web. For instance, when I was in high school, I participated in library clubs, including an anime club and a writer’s workshop.
Librarians help student learn how to take this wealth of information online and make sense of it. Yes, the tools are all there, and if you know what you’re looking at it’s easy. Not everyone can read between the lines and sense the bias in a CEO’s discussion of Global Warming on his blog versus an LA Times’ journalist’s discussion on her blog. People need to learn these things. If it came naturally then scholars would not be so highly regarded. Librarians teach how to be a scholar, and this is not something easily picked up in a classroom. Classroom teachers are already too busy teaching where to put punctuation. They can’t be expected to do everything.
And then there is that second function of a library as community center. A library becomes a place where people can learn not just about the mechanics of information but also about society. It puts the information at people’s fingertips, no matter their age, and then provides them a playing ground to practice what they have learned.
Yes, paper books might not be around much longer – not as we know them – but the library still has a place.