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Taking Our Admirers Where We Can Find Them

Apparently, librarians are going extinct again, according to this meandering column about future predictions.

Librarians are up there with retail cashiers, travel agents, typists, and social media managers. Maybe the world is getting tired of social media now that it’s nothing but Trump and the Russians.

The “old timer” columnist, who has “seen, and even utilized, a digital self-checkout counter,” and who finds himself “more willing to order certain items online, thus contributing to the need for fewer retail clerks,” still can’t imagine libraries going away.

Libraries are an important part of our community, and today there are vast resources online that fairly easily can be accessed. However, there is nothing to compare with the helpful librarian who can do so much more than a search engine. I have a hard time thinking of a future and imagining no librarians.

I notice there’s no mention of actually using libraries anymore.

There’s a lot in that, but one thing to keep in mind is the way these lists are compiled. The jobs seem to be randomly divided between ones that technology is eliminating and ones without stellar job prospects in the near future.

Retail cashiers are mostly unnecessary jobs these days. There’s nothing they can do that can’t be done by a self-checkout machine. They stay around because people like a human touch, or because plenty of people don’t want to learn to check out their own groceries.

In cases like that, the technology doesn’t so much replace the cashier as make the customer the cashier, and not all customers want to double as cashiers.

The technology might become ubiquitous if that Amazon experiment works, where people just put stuff in a cart and it’s automatically scanned as they leave the store, eliminating the need for one professional to learn another trade.

But with librarians, I’ve never seen the evidence that they’re going away, just that librarians, usually public librarians, aren’t going to be hired at a rapid clip anytime soon.

Mostly that’s also because of technology. The weird comparison of librarians with search engines, which as far as I can tell librarians started, explains the demise of some reference librarians.

The “vast resources online” are often awful, which is obvious to librarians. Librarians have access to better information and are better qualified to sift among that available. The problem is nobody cares because they prefer convenience to accuracy.

Better information hasn’t really been a selling point of libraries for a while. Librarians used to claim to be better than the internet, but now they want to be anything but librarians, at least in the public eye.

Librarians might still want to be librarians, and I suspect most of them do, but to sell themselves to the public they’re also community centers, gaming hosts, and whatever else they think the public might like.

I’m often critical of that trend because I think it dilutes the idea of the library to the public, and makes it harder to push the ideas of books, information, literacy, and other standards.

On the other hand, librarians have the admirably workaholic habit of never dropping any services, just adding, so by the end they can be traditional librarians plus all the other things they can get the community to want, and all for the same low price.

It’s quite a bargain for the public.

But even our admirers have some quirks, as this columnist shows. He criticizes Stephen Hawking’s futuristic claims about, for example, humans needing to find a new home in 1,000 years.

That’s just a baseless claim on its own, with no way to evaluate it, and Hawking has no special prescience here. 

Our columnist calls him a “self-proclaimed genius.” I’m pretty sure other people have proclaimed him a genius, but it’s an interesting attempt to undermine him.

And there’s this:

Candidly, I have a great deal of difficulty trusting anything said by this man. It amazes me that such a highly intelligent person can be so willfully ignorant of the truth. Mr. Hawking cannot allow himself to ever have any hope because he is an atheist.

That’s a little weird.The librarian’s role would be merely to say that yes, he made those predictions. Hope has nothing to do with it. That stuff about being “willfully ignorant of the truth” is just introducing unnecessary bias into the interpretation, and does nothing to help understand the context of his predictions.

It’s probably the kind of thing that library admirers don’t really want to hear, though. Nobody likes to be made aware of their own biases, even librarians.

But libraries have to take their admirers where they can find them, even the ones who don’t understand how “willfully ignorant” of other views of the world they are themselves.

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Comments

  1. jane dearie says:

    Wait, what? Hawking is willfully ignorant of the truth? Says what nincompoop? The man spent his entire life searching for truth in science. Mr. Hawking can never allow himself ever to have any hope because he’s an atheist? What? Is this a God wannabe talking? Hawking lived his whole life in hope, conducting his research and writing without the use of any muscles, but his brain, his will, his determination drove him to keep finding the truths in science. And we probably will need to find a home in a lot less than 1,000 years because of trumps idiotic claim that climate change is not real. I distinctly remember reading in one of Hawking’s many books, that when the law of physics in the universe is suspended, miracles happen. That ain’t no atheist talking. I don’t think we need to take any supporter where we can get them. Only true believers in words, facts, books, knowledge need apply.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Is that for real? This comment is… well… less cogent than most, but I think the last sentiment is- sadly- par for the course.

  2. jane dearie says:

    Sadly, your comment really says nothing productive. If you would like supporters who are not interested in facts, science, etc., carry on, you have a lot of work to do. The age of being proudly ignorant is upon us.

    • anonymous coward says:

      I would rather my comment say nothing productive than for it to say we only accept people’s support who we vet and agree with. I happen to find pointing out and decrying drivel a productive enterprise. Purity tests, however, don’t find productive at all.

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