February 16, 2018

Feedback: Letters to LJ, May 15, 2015 Issue

“Stephens seems to be unwittingly advocating a path that turns librarians and libraries into the obsolete technology experts of the future.”

Obsolete techies

As mathematician Jordan Ellenberg points out in How Not To Be Wrong (Penguin, 2014), not all curves are lines. By the way, our paper copy of that book is currently checked out of the library. The trend toward removing open stacks may not be “reversing any time soon,” but that doesn’t mean it will continue linearly and indefinitely until academic libraries consist of nothing but “landscapes of computer access to collections and Maker style spaces” (Michael Stephens, “Room To Grow,” Office Hours, LJ 4/15/15).

It’s absurd to suppose that there are any collections out there entirely made up of “row upon row of stacks containing books that have not been touched in decades.” Even in the most forsaken stacks there is still part of the collection in active use.

The existence of ebooks has not yet eliminated [print] circulation, because print and open stacks support specific kinds of learning: browsing, serendipity, deep reading, and text-based research strategies, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. If the space is valuable for other purposes, then libraries should pay more careful attention to selecting and curating materials that are offered in open stacks to make sure that print collections are active and useful.

I’m rather horrified by Stephens’s portrayal of us librarians as lost souls, “getting out of the way” of students who are frightened by our presence and wandering the campus in search of someone else who might appreciate us. That doesn’t sound to me like people whom he truly considers “the most valuable part of the library,” particularly since he characterized librarians who don’t buy his vision of the future as rumbling with “dissent and discord.” Frankly, I don’t think he likes us very much.

We as a profession need to be far more skeptical of this kind of overstated, attacking futurism. Surely Stephens knows that there are other trends counter to technological ones like relocalization, deep reading and slow reading, reskilling, self-­publishing and letterpress printing…. There is growing evidence that even Generation Z has limits to how much screen time they can tolerate and that people are in search of experiences that feel “real’ and “authentic” in a way that virtual and computerized experiences just don’t.

In his book Letters to a Young Scientist (Norton, 2013), Edward O. Wilson warns against defining yourself as a technology expert, because once the hot new technology changes, you will be obsolete, too. By overstating the uselessness of traditional libraries and librarianship, Stephens seems to be unwittingly advocating a path that turns librarians and libraries into the obsolete technology experts of the future.

—Amy Brunvand, Assoc. Libn., Marriott Lib., Univ. of Utah, Salt Lake City

No guarantees

I hear a conversation about the struggle in Michael Stephens’s “Room To Grow” (Office Hours, LJ 4/15/15)—the struggle surrounding the future role of the librarian in today’s learning environment. Stephens is citing the findings of many others, including the 2015 Horizon Report, and he’s examining the real-world implications of these noted changes. Librarianship is evolving, and all of us in the profession can agree to that fact. I don’t think anyone is arguing in zero-sum terms, especially Stephens.

The role librarians will play and the services we will offer are not written in stone. There is no guarantee that our worth will always be recognized (or needed). It’s up to us to pull the profession forward so that we are meeting the needs of our communities. This conversation may be difficult, but it is necessary, and I applaud Stephens and so many others for continuing to put this question in front of us. Our future will not be our past.

—Michael Casey, IT Dir., Gwinnett Cty. P.L., Lawrenceville, GA

Net zero in Berkeley

There are many libraries in California that are going after LEED certification (Rebecca T. Miller, “Living Libraries,” Editorial, LJ 4/15/15). Berkeley [is] the first public library that’s earned the net zero certification [and is] looking at having an electric car charging station.

—Jeff Scott, Berkeley, CA

A place to work

I am a writer and artist. I like to find quiet places to use computers, do research, and perfect my drawing skills. This would provide me with a great resource and outlet to work on my book that is in the outline stages (Lisa Peet, “Salt Lake City Proposes 24-7 Operations,” News, LJ 1/15). I would use [the library] early mornings and in the evening after 9 p.m.

I have a daughter-in-law who is homeless. She is on a list for housing and has a two-year-old daughter. I believe she could be helped…with assistance in employment to supplement her Social Security check. She has a mental illness that possible employers see as risky [in a hire]. She is a responsible lady and hard worker…. I surely hope and pray that this two-year pilot plan is approved.

—Name withheld


In “A Thriving Print Scene: Best Magazines 2014,” the editor listed for The Cleaver Quarterly is incorrect. The editor is Lilly Chow. LJ apologizes for the error.

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Stephen Koller says:

    I am currently a librarian in fairly small public library in Orange County NY. I do not believe librarians will become extinct anytime soon. While I only work part time, I am fairly busy helping patrons and doing other tasks which a librarian is responsible for. Sometimes I am helping several patrons at one time which I find to be fun. Many times I see the library being used by the same patrons, but I also see new people come in regularly seeking assistance. What I also enjoy doing is communicating with the public. Whether it be about books, the community, or other subjects, I find conversing with the public to be an enjoyable and fun experience. It is true that some patrons may be afraid to ask the librarian for help but I have solved this problem by approaching the patron first. Many times they are excited that I came up to them to ask if they need help. Being friendly and helpful truly makes for a delightful library experience, not only for the patron but for the librarian as well. The library truly is the center of the community. Where else can one go and relax and not have to spend money? As far as technology is concerned I do not think it will threaten the existence of the library. An abundance of information can be found online on countless subjects and it is expanding all the time. The problem is how do we know what is truthful and what is not. The good thing about the web is that anyone can contribute information, but this is also a bad thing. There is a lot of garbage on the web. The library has solved this problem by including legitimate research databases available to those who possess a library card. Some of these databases can be accessed from home and some only from the library. Students can use these for study and research knowing the information posted can be trusted. These databases are also very expensive so it is doubtful the average person would subscribe to any of them from home.
    Ebooks seem to be increasing in popularity these days. Patrons can quickly borrow a book with the push of a button and not have to worry about returning the material because this is done automatically. The problem is that this digital material is just that, digital. It really does not exist. Information stored on a device can be wiped away forever, either purposely or by accident, whereas a printed book is 100% reliable and will always be there when you need it. I think we as a society are becoming too reliant on technology. This reminds me of how the American Indians became too dependent on European goods and technology resulting in a loss of their great skills.