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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Solution to All Our Problems

In the last post I suggested there might be something else libraries could be doing about the problems with drug overdoses, homelessness, and other trenchant social problems that affect them besides just stocking up on Narcan and hoping for the best. Here goes.

These problems are obviously larger problems than libraries are used to dealing with. Librarians are information professionals, mostly, and once it gets past providing information broadly conceived they don’t have much professionally to add.

Or do they? Someone commented on the social triage post:

But libraries are and always have been about connecting people to information. So maybe in the past the librarian would have looked up the name of a treatment center, or a food pantry, or a free clinic, and sent the patron there. But as those places become harder and harder to find, why shouldn’t we close the gap between the patron and the information they’re seeking? Why shouldn’t we invite those services inside our doors?

Why stop there, I ask?

The problems aren’t just a matter of a lack of treatment centers and food pantries. Just as libraries providing Narcan is just a small bandage on a larger problem, so is communities providing treatment centers.

To take the example of the various drug and overdose epidemics as an example, these people need more than treatment, more than needles, and more than a comfortable place to shoot up, or however people consume their drugs these days.

They need meaning and purpose. Why can’t libraries provide these? Admittedly, cataloging and barcoding them could be tough, but librarians are an industrious group.

So how do libraries provide these? Aren’t books enough? Don’t many of us find our meaning and purpose through books? Bibles? Korans? The collected works of Rod McKuen?

If we could just supply enough books, and the right books, libraries could save the world, right?

Alas, that’s unlikely, because most people don’t read very much, and they don’t find their deeper purpose and meaning in the printed word.

In our atomized, open society, it can be hard for people to find meaning and purpose. They can join a religion, but then they can always quite that religion and join a different one and most people won’t care.

Some people make a religion of comic book superheroes, television dramas, American football, or the imaginary days of yesteryear when life was supposedly simpler, which usually means before they grew up and had to deal with jobs and mortgages and all that “adulting.”

And of course there are those who turn politics into a religion, be they communists, fascists, or somewhere in between. They want to be taken care of, to be protected, to be told that everything will be okay.

People want to be part of something larger than themselves, but those somethings are always just one more example of something even larger.

How can libraries hope to cope with tens of millions of people seeking meaning and purpose in a society that lets them do whatever they want for the most part, but doesn’t care how they turn out?

The masses need a movement, a cultural movement that will unite them and give their lives meaning and purpose. I offer the humble solution to this problem: Library Culture.

We know immediately that Library Culture is important because of the capital letters. Think of it like “Library 2.0,” but less silly and insubstantial.

Library Culture could offer the hungry, dissatisfied masses everything they long for.

“Why shouldn’t we invite those services inside our doors?” my commenter asks. Indeed, why not invite all services inside our doors?

What social agency is a lot more popular than just about any government institution? In case you haven’t guessed by now, it’s the Library. That’s the first step in uniting the masses. Even people who don’t use libraries think they’re great, and Library Culture can build on that.

Many librarians already think that libraries have a salvific effect on society. While they’re in library school they get all excited by inspirational books and articles about how libraries serve whatever social cause they like the most, and it’s often days and even weeks into their professional librarian careers before they find out they’ve been conned.

That passion for social justice can easily be turned into a passion for Library Culture. Library Culture seems like it could easily spawn hundreds of books and articles, and if it really gets going maybe even an ALA task force as well.

When Library Culture grows strong, all social problems go away. That would be a great thing to celebrate on Independence Day!



  1. Joneser says:

    And additional staffing, funding, training ,and space would accompany all of this? No thanks, I’ve already got way too much meaning and purpose without the resources to fulfill it. Besides, isn’t locating physical medical facilities inside the library a far cry from information provision?

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