It would seem that the Annoyed Librarian isn’t the only librarian criticizing libraries for trying to be everything to everyone and eroding any core mission they might have had, unless this guy is in fact the Annoyed Librarian, instead of just an annoyed librarian. William Wisner’s "Restore the Noble Purpose of Libraries" seems an odd essay to be published in a news source now almost entire online, given the skepticismWisner has for the devouring Internet, but there it is.
Wisner is the author of Whither the Postmodern Library? – a pessimistic critique of bad technology and a paean to liberal education – and was no doubt disheartened to find snippets of his book available on Google Books. I should confess that I have not read Whither the Postmodern Library?, despite its excellent title; however, I did go back and read the reviews in portal and the Library Journal and it sounds like a depressing read. Here’s an excerpt from Jeff Steely’s review in portal:
The text sharply indicts librarianship. Librarians, by blindly accepting technology and promoting information at the expense of knowledge, have lost track of core values. Rather than fulfill their duty to "humanize" the library, librarians have instead become "blandutopianistic lemmings hurtling off cliffs," (p. 18) in the "shameless pursuit of technology" (p.19). The result, according to Wisner, is that librarians and libraries have been marginalized and may disappear….
Most discouraging is Wisner’s decision to mourn, rather than offer solutions. He in fact criticizes Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman’s book, Future Libraries …, precisely because it does offer potential solutions. Wisner believes that "the library is finished . . .Any ‘solution’ offered would be merely the evidence of a repression in knowing" (p. 123).
I like a good depressing read as much as the next bipolar librarian, but the Wisner of yore sounds like the AL on barbituates. Nevertheless, I do wonder how liberally educated most library school graduates are these days. Though still making the same basic claims,Wisner’s tone seems slightly more hopeful these days.
Modern librarians who prioritize information over knowledge perpetuate a distraction from the real purpose of a library. A library facilitates the patient gathering of knowledge – whose acquisition is superior to almost every other endeavor. Religions have adapted to technology for the most part without being destroyed by it, so why can’t libraries? It might not be too late.
Might not be too late? Is this attitude evidence of a repression in knowing? Do librarians have something better to do than change printer paper? Are there now solutions to the crisis of purposeless libraries?
Before librarians put themselves out of business one printout at a time, libraries must explore similar creative ways to engage the community without dumbing down their mission.
There is a way for libraries to uphold their noble purpose. They must carefully balance wants and needs of the community – they must stop being one-stop shopping centers.
I’m not sure about carefully balancing the wants and needs of the community; that seems too vague to comment upon. I’m intrigued by creatively engaging the community without dumbing down the mission of the library.Wisner opines libraries must stop being one-stop shopping centers, and it’s exactly this everything-to-everyone approach that dumbs down libraries and makes them harder to defend to the general public. Obviously some librarians disagree with me, and claim that only by giving the public what the librarians think the public wants regardless of what it is can libraries survive. That’s backwards thinking, though, and will only dissipate the need for libraries.
A better strategy is to know what libraries should be for and persuading the public of their value, especially their educational and political value. In tough times libraries need a more effective justification than being entertainment centers. Instead of the numerous ALA-inspired articles about how libraries have all sorts of crazy things like videogames these days you’d never expect and you should check them out (!), the national voices of librarianship need to show the necessity of libraries for a thriving, educated, liberal democracy. That probably won’t happen, though, because for too many librarians the library has no higher purpose than to entertain the masses and survive.
Entertainment centers serve no worthwhile purpose in a liberal democracy. Instead, they provide the bread and circuses that distract us from the serious problems we face. Librarians were once concerned with improving the public, but now their spineless relativism disdains such goals as elitist. If the public would prefer to be entertained than educated – and this has almost always been the case – then let us entertain them! It’s just easier that way.
Despite Wisner’s apparent change of heart, the pessimism might still be justified, because discussion of noble purposes is very rarely part of librarian discourse. Unless increasing access to videogames andYoutube videos is a noble purpose.