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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians Exemplify Ruined Minds

Based on the review, I might have to pick up this book, but I fear it will only confirm my prejudices so it might not be worth it. Nicholas Carr thinks the Internet is ruining our minds, or at least so the review title implies.

The argument seems to be that certain Internet activities render our minds incapable of sustained concentration, deep reflection, and sophisticated understanding and interpretation of ideas.

I thought about this and was reminded of some of the clowns who write about libraries. The ones who claim libraries not on Twitter or whatever are invisible. Or the ones who pass on shallow tips on social fads and believe they’re uniquely deep thinkers. Or the ones who really do believe that microblogging is the future of communication just because they have nothing to say that can’t be said in ten words or less. And all the librarian sheep who pay attention to them.

Then came this bit:

He says we are becoming more like librarians — able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets — than scholars who digest and interpret information.

That lack of focus hinders our long-term memory, leading many of us to feel distracted, he said.

“We never engage the deeper, interpretive functions of our brains,” he said.

Finally, it all makes sense! This is why so many librarians either are or are conned by such shallow popinjays! It’s in the nature of the profession.

Librarians, after all, aren’t expected to know very much or think very deeply. Reference librarians used to at least have to know where reference books were located and the sort of information in them, but Google has relieved them of that need.

Catalogers used to read through books at least a little bit to classify them, but now they just download some MARC copy provided by the last seven catalogers left on earth.

And forget about the children’s librarians. Sure, they read a lot…of children’s books. But basing your lifetime reading habits on what you liked in the 7th grade isn’t exactly a recipe for intellectual development.

And then there are the librarians who don’t read at all, or at best read only the tech gadget news. I’m not sure if you read the gadget news at all, but it is almost uniformly upbeat, uncritical, and shallow, with supposedly grown men drooling over shiny gadgets like a 12-year-old girl over Justin Bieber.

You can tell the librarians whose main reading material is gadget news, because they write and speak the same way. “This is cool!” “This is now!” “You’ve got to try this! Because it’s cool and now!”

Traditional librarians are like cats, which explains the affinity. They sit quietly in a corner dreaming about chocolate and yarn. The twopointopians are more like puppy dogs. They run around enthusiastically and bark a lot, and are easily distracted when shiny gadgets and squirrels pass by them.

In the end, I’m not sure I agree with Carr. He seems to imagine some golden age when people were more like scholars than like librarians, but as far as I can tell there was never a golden age like that. The people most fascinated by shiny trifles on the Internet are the ones who in previous eras would have had to satisfy their cravings for novelty with pet rocks and soap operas.

I’m not sure if that’s the case with librarians. The techie librarians of previous eras had their work cut out for them. They really had to know a lot about technology in a hard-core way. Back in the day, librarians had to develop the technology they needed.

Now they just use the technology created by other people and feel like they’re accomplishing something. It’s like someone who confuses reading a book with writing one. “I just finished a book” can have several meanings.

I suspect the same librarians who are least capable of deep thinking or reflection will be the ones most offended by Carr’s analogy. However, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m happy to stand around with the thoughtful librarians in the corner watching the puppies bark and chase squirrels.

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Comments

  1. Wyatt says:

    I got about 140 characters into this when I decided to skim the rest. Was this about librarians or something?

  2. Quick Study says:

    Oh sure, Wyatt gets his/her/its snarky comment posted but mine does not, even though it was the same snark.

    **sigh**

    Ok, where do I send my credit card information so I can get things posted here.

    [AL: Comments by previously approved commenters (i.e. same name and email) should post automatically. The move to WordPress has dramatically increased the spam comments, so I'm still monitoring them.]

  3. Bill says:

    I enjoyed the article. You’ve avoided answering these questions and instead employed roundabout arguments: there never was a golden age, using technology is different than inventing it, and (my favourite cop-out) stating that this doesn’t bother you at all and that only a fool would be worried by the opposition’s attack.

    Can librarians succinctly and compellingly explain what they do to a non-librarian? Could you, for example, provide bulletproof reasons for why you’re necessary, for why you couldn’t be replaced tomorrow by a car-welding robot that grabs things off shelves? What part of a good librarian’s day, exactly, is filled with deep reflection and scholarly musings etc.? To the untrained eye, librarians seem to spend most of their time moving items around on the hold shelf and helping nice old ladies who don’t want to use the self-checkout.

  4. Bill says:

    Oh dang I’ve got some typos up there. Should be more like, “I enjoyed this article BUT you’ve avoided answering the questions you raise”

  5. Quick Study says:

    Would Chip prefer cash or a check?

    Or does should I just put this all on my plastic?

  6. Spekkio says:

    “I’m happy to stand around with the thoughtful librarians in the corner watching the puppies bark and chase squirrels.”

    What is a thoughtful librarian? Can we define it?

  7. Helen Azar says:

    I personally don’t think AL believes a word he/she posts on this blog, and just does it because it’s fun (and to rile up librarians.. and maybe to have a blogger job… or has too much time on hands)! ;-)

  8. Quick Study says:

    Or the AL is just another journalist who gets a nice bonus based on hits to its blog.

  9. MrTadakichi says:

    Excellent post, AL. This sounds like just another of those “These Darn Kids Aren’t Like I Imagine We Were So Everything’s Going Straight To Hell In A Handbasket” type books. Some crotchety old geezer who would normally lurk in that house that all the kids warn each other to avoid writes a book and suddenly appears on every talk show in the world. And we’re supposed to take him seriously.
    Of course, all the people who are capable of deeper thought would see through his idiocy in a second.
    And librarians? We probably have a higher percentage of deep thinkers than average, if only because we read more books than the average person. But that’s not the point. We’re there to get the information to help other people become deeper thinkers and better, more productive citizens.

  10. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Everyone’s so mean today!

  11. Libraryman says:

    To MrTadakichi: I could say I read more than the average person, but not the average patron. They read far more than I could. The joke at my library is that the librarians never get to read.

    Course with the google and the twitter we don’t need no books neither.

  12. MsTibbs says:

    My supervisor actually takes pride in the fact she doesn’t read and never fails to shoot me an annoyed look if she catches me perusing a book jacket for more than .03 seconds. As she is also a techno-phobe, her pat answer to any inquiries about a certain title is: “People have really liked it”. Shoot me now.

  13. Liblarva says:

    AL you must be hitting pretty close to the mark to get ‘em all riled up like that.

  14. Plain Jane says:

    “[Carr] seems to imagine some golden age when people were more like scholars than like librarians, but as far as I can tell there was never a golden age like that. The people most fascinated by shiny trifles on the Internet are the ones who in previous eras would have had to satisfy their cravings for novelty with pet rocks and soap operas.”

    Which is why Carr’s article is a poorly-researched, hysterical piece of fluff like the Luddite jerimiads you see in the Chronicle for Higher Education and can be easily dismissed.

  15. Raynor says:

    “Librarians, after all, aren’t expected to know very much or think very deeply. Reference librarians used to at least have to know where reference books were located and the sort of information in them, but Google has relieved them of that need.”

    I think you’re missing the point of Carr’s librarian/scholar dichotomy; it’s not about Google. Before Google, a reference librarian was expected to be familiar with and be able to use several resources in any given field (and still should be), but the librarian’s knowledge of Granger’s indices is far different from a dedicated scholar’s knowledge of 19th century American poetry.

  16. Raynor says:

    “My supervisor actually takes pride in the fact she doesn’t read… As she is also a techno-phobe”

    Did you mean technophile, or does she hate books and electronic media? What does this person do with her time?

  17. Bill says:

    “You’ve avoided answering these questions and instead employed roundabout arguments: there never was a golden age, using technology is different than inventing it, and (my favourite cop-out) stating that this doesn’t bother you at all and that only a fool would be worried by the opposition’s attack.

    Can librarians succinctly and compellingly explain what they do to a non-librarian? Could you, for example, provide bulletproof reasons for why you’re necessary, for why you couldn’t be replaced tomorrow by a car-welding robot that grabs things off shelves? What part of a good librarian’s day, exactly, is filled with deep reflection and scholarly musings etc.? To the untrained eye, librarians seem to spend most of their time moving items around on the hold shelf and helping nice old ladies who don’t want to use the self-checkout.”

    (sorry to repost it all but) I wasn’t asking these in a ‘mean’ way, just trying to winkle out an actual answer. I am not a librarian but I use the library all the time, I love libraries and always have. But all my wonderful memories of the library involve me quietly browsing shelves or watching educational videos of dinosaurs on the lib. computer – an actual flesh-and-blood librarian has never really entered into it, and certainly I’ve never experienced anything like the thoughtful feline philosopher-professional referenced by the AL.

    This post uses sarcasm and hyperbole to discredit Carr’s assertion (even though, reading the article on Carr’s book, I don’t think he was making a jab at librarians). Legitimate use of rhetoric. But the AL does not really explain her own position. I’d like her to, because I think the world should have librarians and I think librarians are great. But so far I have not seen any clear argument as to why anybody NEEDS them.

  18. Quick Study says:

    Man, this is a long post with a lot of long replies.

    Where is the Twitter feed on this topic?

  19. nschultz says:

    This is to Bill who questioned the necessity of librarians. I believe that communities need libraries but I don’t see the distinction between needing libraries and needing librarians. I believe that an ‘actual flesh-and-blood librarian’ can help someone (adult/child) whose never been to a library have a less intimidating experience. If we can make the library a welcoming, user-friendly resource that will encourage return visits I think that’s always a significant contribution.

  20. Quick Study says:

    We need libraries.

    We just don’t need “free” libraries. (You know free, taxpayer subsidized)

    We need means tested libraries. The more you make the more you pay.

  21. Raynor says:

    “We just don’t need “free” libraries. (You know free, taxpayer subsidized)

    We need means tested libraries. The more you make the more you pay.”

    These are the same thing. Tax-based funding, whether income- or property- based, places a larger burden on those who make more money (or who own more valuable property, which correlates fairly well with making more money).

  22. Bill says:

    “This is to Bill who questioned the necessity of librarians. I believe that communities need libraries but I don’t see the distinction between needing libraries and needing librarians. I believe that an ‘actual flesh-and-blood librarian’ can help someone (adult/child) whose never been to a library have a less intimidating experience. If we can make the library a welcoming, user-friendly resource that will encourage return visits I think that’s always a significant contribution.”

    Thanks for the answer. It is honest and thoughtful.

    I should say, though, if I were a librarian I’d be very worried by this answer, because it suggests that librarians’ primary duty is just to make the necessary bits of the library (big room full of books, catalog of some description) seem less frightening.

    Librarians should give some serious thought to what makes them indispensable to the information-disseminating process. Not just nice to have around, or palliative of intimidation, but indispensable.

  23. leavingtheoffice says:

    “He says we are becoming more like librarians — able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets — than scholars who digest and interpret information.”

    What exactly is the problem here? We don’t all need to be scholars and we can’t be experts on all things. Finding the best nuggets is sufficient for most topics most of the time. Besides, tweets are often linked to full-length articles and 140 characters is often enough to determine if something is relevant and/or interesting to you.

  24. Mr. Kat says:

    Bill, you aimed a very well placed shot at the bow of librarians everywhere! But it’s so very true, AL!

    Then came this bit:
    He says we are becoming more like librarians — able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets — than scholars who digest and interpret information.
    That lack of focus hinders our long-term memory, leading many of us to feel distracted, he said.
    “We never engage the deeper, interpretive functions of our brains,” he said.
    Finally, it all makes sense! This is why so many librarians either are or are conned by such shallow popinjays! It’s in the nature of the profession.

    I’ve run on both sides of the road, the hedge, the fence and the stream – and it’s really quite amusing to watch. Lirbarians, on one hand, have access to all the information – and they’ll read on volume, and suddenly think they know the subject. Meanwhile, the people who use that volume for their serious work, who really do know the subject – look upon the librarians with amusement at best. The joke is, these people WROTE the book that the librarian read, and what they know includes all the parts there were not in the book!

    So when the librarian tries to say “oh, I know all about that subject” it just looks really really silly. Luckily, librarians are being put out of this business by the likes of google and now scholars can find their materials on their own.

    The only problem is, scholars can’t house all those volumes – though now they have a lot of e-access. And a numebr of labs will buy their own access if the library can’t.

    Most daily library duties can be carried out by 18-25 year old kids…I’ve seen ten year olds running checkout counters. I guess it really pays if your mom is a librarian, you can start getting your work experience early and nobody ever so much as asks to see your credentials to work in the library – you’re a shoe in…Blast. What that leaves for “real librarians” is questionable…The work done by librarians shrinks by the day.

  25. vimes67 says:

    The whole scholar/librarian discussion I think is part of the answer to what librarians do and why they are important. Scholars and experts in a field know more about textbook x than the librarian who directed them to it ever will. The librarian, however, should be able to help that scholar find resources not just on x, but a, b, and c as well. And when another scholar comes in for textbook f, they can repeat the process.

    Librarians are assets that make navigating information and researching easier and more productive. And this is just their most visible role – ordering and cataloging materials is important, too, more so as time goes on and the amount of information out there increases exponentially.

  26. Mr. Kat says:

    Vimes, at this point, the scholars I worked with would prefer if librarians would focus on just providing access – they have no problems finding the resources, and in many cases are already better versed in the available search resources than librarians ever will be. And that is as they should be – they’re scholars in an information rich age with incredible electronic search access at their fingertips!

    They already know about Journal X. They also know about Journal X’, the translated version of Journal X because Journal X was orignally published in Russian. What they want is access to the X” derivative of Article 4 from Journal X volume 4, in PDF format with full Optical Character Recognition, with no scanning or copying blemishes, within 1 minute or less from the moment they discovered they want the article. Mind you, due to the delay in translation, the volume numbers, page numbers and even article order between the two journals differ!

    Too often, the results that I got from the library were horrendous. Number one, the original scans would be blemished to the point that I could not read them – and a ILL request is useless if the information is not legible! Yes, I realize that it is difficult to scan the areas of the journal next to the binding, but having scanned over four figures worth of articles myself, I can tell you that it is very well possible to do it. Furthermore, the PDFs that I received had very poor digital editing appled [the margins were black] and the character recognition was often spotty at best – my scholar employer responded by getting our own OCR software and we cleaned the pages up to a presentable level using editing software. And finally, librarians proved to be utterly useless when it came to navigating Russian Journals and their English Translation counterparts. You’d think research librarians would be good at connecting these dots together, but time after time after time…epic fail. End result? The lab did the article research on our own and just used the library as an ILL delevery service.

    Very few librarians have the background to even begin to understand the content of that article…so the librarian will not be much use in the research part of gathering information – they don’t know what information is important and which information is common knowledge within the field. Where the scholars need librarians to be fluent are in the skills necessary to gain full access to the content.

    The greatest issue is that the scholar might be looking for Journal X and have no idea that it has been translated into Journal X’. Furthermore, in some cases Journal X gets broken up into 1X’, 2X’, and 3X’, where each section in X is divided into it’s own journal section in English. And the final nails: the names of these journals change at least once every 10 to 25 years, further complicating the issue!

    So inshort, librarians don’t need to understand the content in the article. They need to understand the bibliographic origins of the article [the original journal title/titles], the derivatives of the article[english, russian, french, greman versions], and they need to simply get that article in the best possible format for scholarly use [In most cases, the english version is most desireable]. And they need to be familiar with the tools and skills necessary to produce professional digital documents.

    But this is only in academic libraries – I’m sure it’s different in other places.

    - Access, Access, Access!

  27. Roen Janyk says:

    How can we say Librarians are not necessary when many current Librarians do not simply deal with books? What about Emerging Technologies Librarians, Web Services Librarians, Systems Librarians, Digital Collections Librarians, and so on? Just as the realm of information has expanded and evolved, so has the profession of librarianship. Yes, Librarians do have their work cut out to make themselves relevant and appear necessary in this day and age. But as information is created at a rapid rate, someone needs to organize it (whether copy cataloguing or tagging), make it accessible (either online or at a library), and forage through the information (at a rapid rate versus poking along as the amateur often does). Many of the Librarians I know (especially the techie ones) spend a lot of their time reading, whether online or books, in order to stay on top of their game and give users the best experience possible. So maybe if most of the population is not “engaging in the deeper, interpretive functions” of their brains, the Librarians are probably doing it when no one is watching, just adding to people’s perceptions that librarians are there to provide a warm and fuzzy, welcoming feeling to using one’s local library.

  28. I totally agree with Roen janyk. How can we say Librarians are not necessary when many current Librarians do not simply deal with books? Anyway, i enjoyed the post

  29. Matthew M. says:

    Cool!

    ;)

  30. sharon says:

    In all of these rants on public libraries and public librarians, you overlook that fact that public librarians do not make decisions–about the collection, about technology, about programming–in a vacuum. Public libraries answer to their constituents, usually represented by a board of trustees or a town council or some combination of duly elected officials. If the population served asks for more computer stations and more DVDs, and then, when it gets what it asks for, turns around and cuts the library budget or closes the library, where does the ultimate responsibility for the cuts/closure lie?

  31. Picard says:

    Isn’t part of the job of the library administration – to sell the voting public on what the library can provide?

    If they allow themselves to be pigeonholed or even actively embrace the notion that the public library is for popular materials only, and that shelf space is valuable, that every item must earn its keep by checking out 1.2 times per year or whatever, and that the patrons want DVD’s and computers and not books etc – things they don’t value when money is tight – then – yes the library administration bears some responsibility.

  32. I Like Books says:

    Blog tweets:

    Professors have noticed the quality of research papers dropping as students get access to the internet.

    Some people say they can get everything they need for free on the internet. A few decades ago, these people wouldn’t have been going to the library anyway. If their net feeds dried up for some reason today, they still wouldn’t go. So why are we listening to them now?

    The Google Generation is not “able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets”. They’re able to find information quickly and discern SOME nuggets. But, often enough, a limited set of information is repeated again and again, sometimes in slightly different forms and sometimes verbatim, in web page after web page. So they might be finding the best nuggets available after all.

    If web pages provided the same quality of information as books, then they’ll be hundreds of pages long. Books are that long because that’s how long it takes to tell the story. But nobody has the patience to read that much web page. Me included. Somehow I can just have so much more patience with a book.

  33. overmatik says:

    Some people here have their minds too related to public libraries. I work at an University Library, and most of our users, mainly the ones who use the library the most, understand the role and importance of a Librarian.

    Any Academic Reference Librarian knows what I’m talking about.

  34. Eva says:

    I work as a professional researcher, and frankly, I’ve yet to meet a librarian who knows nearly as much about research and primary sources as I do. And that includes those who work at universities and special collections. They know how to catalogue and how to cross-reference, but that’s about it.

  35. Skipbear says:

    Wow and I skim that book on my Kindle while I’m playing Mafia wars, texting and watching a netflix movie at the reference desk.