Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Libraries Without Librarians

When libraries turn up in the press the reports aren’t always confused. Sometimes they get libraries just right, like this opinion article about libraries being “for the homeless, the drifters and the snorers,” people like the author, who does his self-indulgent best to sing the praises of the public library. In this case it’s the British Library, so it’s not a typical public library, but it’s still public.

It’s a place where anyone is comfortable to sleep and even snore, which means the British Library isn’t one that has tried to combat the homeless using it as a shelter by creating rules against both sleeping and snoring.

It provides a good demonstration of male creepiness in libraries as well. For example, whether the author would wake up a snorer “all depends on how cute they are. That is, if he or she – OK, let’s not be silly here – she were cute, then I would gently wake her up and humorously suggest we go for a coffee to remedy the situation.”

That’s the sort of interaction women might hope to avoid in libraries, but libraries expose people to all the experiences and knowledge of the world.

It also demonstrates in concrete terms the class leveling that can go on in public libraries, as when the author remarks, “the only difference between me and the vagrant in the municipal library is that I have the TLS open in front of me rather than the Daily Express, and I smell better.”

Smelling awful might make the library staff wince slightly when interacting with you, but in most situations the aromatic and the malodorous will receive more or less equal treatment, just like the beautiful and the ugly.

However, the one thing absent from the article is a mention of librarians or library staff. Indeed, librarians are conspicuous by their absence: “Curiously, no one has ever reprimanded me for snoring.”

There can be little doubt that the British Library is a great library, and also little doubt that part of what makes it so is centuries of work by librarians, but what makes it great for readers is space and reading material.

The same can also be said of most public library locations. Provide places to sit and something to read and libraries have fulfilled a major part of their mission for most people who use libraries.

The desire to turn public libraries into community centers and other non-library endeavors should be accompanied by the realization that the existence of librarians is already marginalized even within libraries.

This fact can be interpreted in at least a couple of ways. First, librarians could understand and regret this marginalization.

They already know that the public usually has little idea what they do beyond shushing people, being sexy, and reading all day. Being that sexy and shushing that many people is a full time job in itself, so how they get a chance to read all day as well is probably a mystery to the public, but the public doesn’t really care.

Understanding their marginalization would thus be a bad thing.

On the other hand, if the public already doesn’t really care if librarians exist, if all they really want are some places to sit and stuff to read, it could make librarians feel better about turning libraries into community centers or whatever they want to do.

One doesn’t need librarians to create inviting spaces to sit and read, as bookstores and coffeehouses have known forever.

If the librarians don’t even want to enforce silence, then there’s even less need for them. Every librarian interviewed for an article about libraries emphasizes that they’re not about shushing and the library isn’t quiet anymore, even if that’s what library users actually want.

So this could all be a positive. As libraries transform into something else, librarians can go extinct or spend even more time reading about shushing sexy people, and the library can just go on existing without them.

As we know from the many librarians who have been asked if they’re volunteers, the general public seems to think that happens anyway.



  1. With all the budget difficulties that public libraries have been up against, not just presently, but for so many years it makes me wonder if the libraries are headed to a point where the library itself, as a place/institution/concept will be saved at the expense of librarians. So many claim to love libraries and the idea of libraries that if it came down to a library closing completely, or being open but only staffed by volunteers, then I see a segment of volunteer run libraries becoming a thing. I’m not sure how this would go in places with unionized libraries. I live in a state that isn’t very union friendly, so I don’t know the ins and outs of how it would work.

  2. Libertarian Librarian says:

    The new film “The Public” about a group of woke librarians taking over the library for the homeless will not help. It will reinforce the idea that librarians don’t care about the information and education needs of the “average” patron. They have to fight the Man! A family member who lives in a major city won’t use the library due to the bed bug problem. We really need to commit our essential mission.

  3. The Ludaeig says:

    “They already know that the public usually has little idea what they do beyond shushing people, being sexy, and reading all day. Being that sexy and shushing that many people is a full time job in itself, so how they get a chance to read all day as well is probably a mystery to the public, but the public doesn’t really care.”

    I also somehow fit in the time to sit and eat bonbons at the desk.

    At my library, we have areas where we do, actually, enforce that it’s a quiet area. That way, there are areas for people who don’t mind noise (like children or teens playing games) and people who do.

  4. I’m sure libraries won’t be something else for long. The communities are actually protecting libraries from going out of business. However, surely, there will be a shushing library again. Homeless will be forced to be kicked out. Children and teens won’t be interested in libraries for long Libraries will have very strict directors who can keep libraries balanced instead of making libraries fancy.

  5. Holding on while the bottom drops out says:

    So it helps to look at the “about” section for the publication which produced the opinion piece…which reads, “The New Statesman is the leading progressive political and cultural magazine in the United Kingdom.” So this idea is rooted in a particular perspective and one that I might say is and has dominated public libraries for decades, that is to say, politically progressive. Libraries role in society is not static, so libraries change. That’s a given. However, one has to ask, after the Librarians are removed, which is coming, and after the books are removed, which happening in academic libraries as we speak, how will the library as an institution be able to justify the capital expenditures that cities and universities expend when libraries ultimately are left serving the same role as the community center except libraries have computers? The intuitional administrators will see that it is cheaper at…wait for it…the existing community centers, where they can buy a few computers and hire some non MLIS staff to assist at printing and still come out ahead budget-wise. I foresee in a not too distant future libraries being merged with parks and recreation departments who will jointly manage the common spaces that the community uses for recreation. Library staff can celebrate their long term viability in this new role but they’ll be doing it without MLIS librarians, well at least those librarians who did not go to Library School to become social workers…those librarians will have a place in the future, they just won’t be doing library work. What I find most annoying about this trend of hyper progressive “woke” library operations is that in the end, it doesn’t value the informational aspects of the institution because that idea is hard to value in an increasingly business-centric operating structure…so in essence we have anti-capitalist progressive using capitalist labor metrics to justify a shift in the institution from being a civil service approach to providing a democratically necessary needed for the public to find and access sources of information into a progressive wonderland that gets its value by being able to check off how many “programs” it has provided. A metric that can be easily tabulated and expressed in terms that corporate minded administrators can understand. This is how hallowed intuitions die. Furthermore, we are already seeing seeds of this now, in the future when libraries are no longer seen as neutral places for all to use but rather are seen as progressive institutions who have a bias in their operations the library funding will become even harder to justify as conservative oriented administrators will not see a higher civic virtue, worth vouchsafing but rather a progressive gravy train who needs cutting. Libraries now enjoy high support because they are seen as the institutions that they use to be. That support is not going to be there in the future if we don’t check this trend and return to the path that traditionally has been our turf. This path, being an informational institution, may not be as sparkly as the job ending homelessness, promoting social justice and having trans story time but has a proven worth that cuts across cultural identity and has proven to have long term value.

    • unemployed librarian says:

      @holding on while the bottom . . .

      I think you hit the nail right on the head. To me, though, the reason public libraries are in trouble all comes down to poor leadership in the library field, which results from poor LIS education and other factors. So, the bottom line, is that we’ve done this to ourselves. We have failed to articulate the value of libraries because most librarians have no values other than those having to do with so-called “social justice” and other vanguard liberal causes (i.e. lbgt crap) that just alienates most constituencies. This while not being able to articulate and engage in complex discussions about literacy, democracy, intellectual freedom, ethics, etc., but instead just shout platitudes. This is a time to be bold, take risks, and engage with different constituents. However, the librarianship profession has a plethora of severely introverted librarians who are unable to think outside-the-box, even at the leadership level, and so outreach, promotion, and innovation suffer. We’ve done it to ourselves folks! We’ve made our bed, so now we must sleep in it.

  6. Crushing it in Pierce County says:

    Here in Washington, we just do it all better. We have a purpose, we have good budgets (many systems are independent taxing-districts), motivated staff and management, and the public loves us. My job was directly created with a levy-lid lift. People voted to pay more taxes for the services we provide.

    I have to agree with unemployed librarian above – the issue is management and the industry leaders (like the folks at LJ).

    FEMA considers us a critical resource. Tragic that the folks who call themselves librarians do not see it that way.

  7. Suzanne Tecza says:

    It really important to get the local community involved in “their,” library. It’ so sad that the less fortune don’t always have advocates to help support their needs.

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