Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Shiny Toys and Glossy Gimmicks

It was pretty obvious by the response to my last post that there are at least two sorts of librarians – those who value trite, vulgar, attention-seeking gimmicks that supposedly benefit the profession, and those who don’t.

I really shouldn’t be so hard on those librarians who value the trite and vulgar. They really can’t help themselves. They live in a world awash with vulgarity and self-obsession, and they don’t have the proper moral compass to steer clear of them. Execrable rock videos, balloon boys, they’re both part of the bizarre society we have developed in which the only value that matters is to get noticed, not to have anything worthwhile to say.

One has to hand it to some librarians: they definitely know how to get noticed. They dress up trite gimmicks with glossy trappings and wave them in front of audiences of librarians, most of whom are good-hearted and desire to promote their profession – traits which blind them to the lack of substance behind these attention-seeking gimmicks. These librarians are "jazzed" about being librarians, one commenter noted, as if that’s at all important. Being "jazzed" is for some librarians apparently enough to excuse vulgarity and superficiality.

Librarianship is an important, if sometimes dull, profession. The "Library 101" crowd seems, as another commenter noted, to really present "Public Library Public Services 33," but even public library service is important. However, working at a public desk in a public library is hardly the end-all and be-all of librarianship. These librarians often claim to be motivated by a desire to have libraries in the future. They probably do want libraries to continue to exist, but they’re not motivated by that. They’re motivated by shiny toys.

The twopointopians and now oneohonions are happy to tell you how important it is for you to know about Hulu and iPhones, but do they ever talk about the actual ways libraries are justified and supported? How to deal with library boards or academic administrations? How to build a larger case for the existence and purpose of libraries? No, they don’t.

They’re like children frolicking around playing with shiny toys and having a good time while the grown-ups are the ones dealing with the actual problems of survival. They’re obsessed enough to think that their game-playing is actually the most basic thing about the profession of librarianship. Shiny toys are fun, but they don’t keep libraries running.

One commenter suggested the "Library 101" message was that libraries must adapt to technological changes or die. That might be, but the "technology" so touted by the twopointopians isn’t the serious information technology that’s changing libraries. Twitter? Facebook? Hulu? Where’s digitization, programming, or database design? The twopointopians play around with simple tools that any halfwit could master and think they’re techies. The real techies in librarianship aren’t proselytzing for social media; they’re building tools to help libraries do their jobs better.

Even if we disregard the dubious technological prowess of the twopointopians, does their playing around with shiny toys help libraries at all?

Consider some of the issues libraries are facing these days. We’ll just stick to public libraries, since those are apparently the only libraries the ALA and many twopointopians ever think of when they say "The Library." Public libraries all over the country are facing severe budget problems. Hours are being cut back, branches closed. In some areas the citizens are fighting and protesting to keep the libraries open, which is great. This leaves us with two questions: why are libraries threatened and why do some citizens fight for them to be open?

Libraries are threatened because many don’t see them as essential services. They’re definitely less essential than police or fire departments, but are they essential at all? What makes them essential? Is it that they have people to help grandma get to her email to see photos of her grandbabies? That’s a good thing, but is it worth paying taxes for? Or so some rapt librarian can explain all about iPhone apps? Or help people use YouTube? These aren’t bad things, but do they justify public expense at all? It seems to many of us that the very things the twopointopians see as basic to librarianship just do not justify public expense.

And why do people support libraries so vigorously when they do? Does it have anything to do with access to social media? This is an empirical question, but I’d guess not. Access to computers and information? Sure. To a communal center? Probably. But one of the biggest reasons would have to be access to books. You know, those old paper things that people still check out.

Especially, perhaps, books for their children. The twopointopians can go on all they like about how important they are and how crucial they are to the future of libraries, but one good children’s librarian inspiring and supporting literacy in children is worth at least ten twopointopians congratulating themselves that they’ve mastered tools that any teenager can master in 10 minutes.

"The Library" doesn’t have to be about books, but it has to be about reading, literacy, and education. Otherwise, it doesn’t justify itself at all. Citizens should rightly examine their libraries and ask themselves why they should pay taxes to support some guy who sits in the basement of the library playing with gadgets and surfing the Internet. What exactly is that guy doing that’s so important to the community?

In brief, that’s my complaint against the twopointopians. They think they’ve mastered something important and they think what they do is the most central thing about being a librarian, but really they’re just playing with shiny toys and distracting librarians from more important things. When funds are tight and tough choices have to be made, who would really say, "Oh yes, it’s very important that your taxes pay someone to know about Hulu."

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