[News flash: some people were VERY offended this week about how insensitive the AL is. I should put a banner on the blog that says, Sensitive Souls Stay Away.]
Libraries are getting some good press these days. Unfortunately, it’s contradictory.
Take a look at this opinion column about libraries, Free entertainment, for life, by Bob Greene When I saw the headline, I groaned, thinking it was going to be another bad way to defend libraries.
Though librarians sometimes act as if Americans have a Constitutional right to free entertainment for life, it’s never a good way to promote libraries to the people who fund them. The municipal government slashing public library budgets could not care less if people are entertained.
Instead, it’s a stirring tribute to something librarians should be promoting all the time – reading, especially reading more widely than the current bestseller list.
The cult and culture of newness in our society has made us too willing to believe that “new” automatically equates to “good.” A book that was stirring and lovely when it was written — whether 15 years ago or 60 years ago or 150 years ago — does not lose its power just because it sits on a library shelf for decades at a time with no one pulling it out. The great majority of books in any city or small-town public library are not currently being discussed on television or radio talk shows; the authors are not on tour. But, years ago, someone decided for a reason that those books were meant to be bound between hard covers. The reason was that the writing inside was intended to last….
No one can predict with certainty what is going to become of the book business in the century ahead of us. But there is something about life that all of us, in the back of our minds, know is true: The best and most unforgettable moments have a way of blindsiding us, of appearing as if by magic when we aren’t even looking for them. So it is with books. They’re out there, on library shelves in the town where you are reading these words. Some haven’t had their covers opened in years, or been carried out the front door of the library. Maybe you and one of them were meant for each other. It’s summer. What have you got to lose?
When was the last time you heard a librarian promote libraries like that? I have to give kudos to the current ALA President for being the first librarian I’ve seen in a long while defend reading like that. She’s quoted in the column as a supportive voice.
Normally, all we hear is that the library isn’t a stuffy, dowdy “warehouse for books” anymore, as if libraries were ever merely warehouses for books. I’ve been to an actual book warehouse, and trust me, it looks nothing like a library.
For a good example, see this article, The library is not just a book warehouse anymore. Okay, the article is from Canada, but it sounds like every other article about libraries that tries to dispel stereotypes.
Even the headline is stupid, since the use of “anymore” assumes that libraries were indeed book warehouses. We hear about how a new library is going to be a community center with more computers and a place for people to hang out, so pretty much what’s been going on at numerous libraries for a generation or so.
Like many news / propaganda articles about libraries, including the opinion column quoted above, it’s intended for people who haven’t visited a library for decades. But what a difference between the two.
The Canadian article and the librarians quoted in it have nothing good to say about books or reading. A head librarian is quoted as saying: “Libraries are not book warehouses anymore, they are active places to find inspiration or knowledge.”
Yet she must know that libraries were never book warehouses, and that they have been active places for people to find inspiration and knowledge for centuries. What, people never found knowledge and inspiration in books?
It’s bad enough when people who never read or use libraries talk such rot, but it’s much worse when librarians start talking this way.
Think about the effect of this sort of propaganda on people who read a lot. I’m one of those people, and when I read articles like this, I start to think that libraries really aren’t the place for me.
Libraries can re-envision themselves any way they please, but if libraries abandon people who want to read broadly and deeply, then the praise of libraries by people like Bob Greene will be nothing but lies, and serious readers will have nowhere to go.
Imagine what a lovely world it would be where more librarians talked up the library as a place to get great books, instead of a place that is hip now that it has nothing to do with reading.