Why, oh why can’t CNN just leave librarians alone? Someone there must have a librarian fetish or something. Perhaps the news director has secret fantasies where prim, slender librarians shake the buns out of their hair, take off their glasses, and tie him up with library chains. Or her up. Or whatever.
The latest CNN story sent on to me by a kind reader has the same problems most news stories about librarians have. Supposedly it’s on the "future of libraries" (where library = public library, natch). It reads like it was written by someone who hasn’t been in a library since the 1950s, if ever. The opening couldn’t have been written by a regular library patron: "The stereotypical library is dying — and it’s taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it." Dank smell? Since when have libraries ever had dank smells? The writer must be thinking of the books he has stored in his parent’s basement. Maybe the shushing lady is his mother.
Then we hear that "Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas." That part’s true, I guess. Replacing books with "gaming areas" allows libraries to replace librarians with arcade attendants, which fortunately for those of us whose taxes pay for libraries are a lot cheaper than librarians. Naturally, we are also told that "Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians." Does blogging make one a hipster? I don’t "chat" on Twitter, but I also don’t care about theDDC. I think I might be a hipster! The AL a hipster. Who knew?
And can one really "chat" on Twitter, anyway? Isn’t Twitter just another example of the "one-way flow of information from book to patron" that we’re told later in the article just "isn’t good enough anymore"? And if you blog without allowing comments, which I’m told some people do, that’s the same old one-way communication as we’ve always had. This story is confusing me.
We’re also presented with what CNN apparently thinks is ironic. "Authors, publishing houses, librarians and Web sites continue to fight Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s books and create the world’s largest library online. 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." What does this "meanwhile" mean? How are these connected at all? Is it supposed to mean that librarians are trying to eliminate all books, both online and in their libraries? Does CNN think that opposition to the Google project is the same as the opposition to online books? I’m getting confused again.
We also get to hear that there’s been a "revolution" in libraries. "Think of the change as a Library 2.0 revolution — a mirror of what’s happened on the Web." Where does this rhetoric come from? I haven’t noticed any revolution in libraries. There hasn’t even been evolution so much as there’s been addition, but I guess saying libraries have been adding services since the beginning of their existence and still are doesn’t make for an exciting news article. Libraries still do what they did a hundred years ago, and they do other stuff, too. Where’s the revolution?
Mirror of the Web? Doesn’t that just mean that librarians are doing some of the same things that lots of other people are already doing? People write blogs.OMG , librarians write blogs! People use Twitter. Librarians use Twitter! People play games. Librarians play games! This is just craziness!
For some reason, we have a public policy center director telling us that, "libraries always have served two roles in society: They’re places where people can get free information; and they’re community centers for civic debate," and that, "As books become more available online, that community-center role will become increasingly important for libraries." Librarians love the community center idea, but I’m not sure how videogames, for example, have anything to do with civic debate. Let’s leave out the civic debate part – which no one’s interested in, anyway – and the free information part – which most people can get online elsewhere – and you have the future of libraries: recreation centers for the middle and lower classes.
I got really excited by this part: "This shift means the role of the librarian — and their look — is also changing." The "and their look" bit is priceless. I wonder if people who stereotype librarians are so obsessed with looks and fashion because they objectify women and librarianship has always been a feminized profession. It’s a thought, anyway. The general characterization of the "look" isn’t changing anyway. Too many librarians still look like they bought their clothes at rummage sales. They’re just attending those sales in different neighborhoods.
The president of ALISE (who thus is most likely not a librarian) tells us that "A rise in a young, library-chic subculture on blogs and on Twitter is putting a new face on this changing role." This sounds nifty, except I can’t figure out what it means. Since when are the bloggers andTwitterers young? Or library-chic for that matter? What is young? Under 30? Under 35? Surely not over 40. How many librarians out there blogging or are under 35? How many over 50? Plenty. And Twitter for the young? Based on what I read, the young ‘uns stay as far away from Twitter as possible. It’s the old folk who have picked it up and run with it. This article seems to be claiming the young-old divide happens sometime around age 70. We’re so busy bucking those stereotypes we don’t even make sense.
The last little quote from a library school student stood out for me as well. ""Sure I love to read. I read all the time. I read physical books. But I don’t have the strange emotional attachment that some people possess…. If the library is going to turn into a place without books, I’m going to evolve with that too." That sounds like a pragmatic and intelligent approach. Working in a library is a job, not a calling. But I guess I haven’t seen much of the "strange emotional attachment" to physical books that this student seems to have. For the educational role of the library, the attachment is intellectual, not emotional. People can sit in their info echo chambers and chatter at each other all they like, but there are some things they are never going to learn unless they read books.
But that’s neither here nor there. Personally, I don’t see that libraries have changed that much. They seem to offer the same services as always, some familiar ones in new guises, and some new ones that are already popular with masses of people. This is hardly revolutionary. But if there’s been a revolution in libraries, it’s clear there hasn’t been a revolution in journalism about libraries. It’s got the same dank smell and endless confusions as ever. I guess stupid publicity is better than no publicity at all.
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