Dad, What’s a Library?
It’s not that absurd of a question. And, it may be one you hear soon.
Libraries are an institution. They’re part of the fabric of most cultures. But are they still relevant? Or, are they going to go the way of Blockbuster?
Historically libraries were the source of most information. The amount of information was limited to the physical size of the library itself. The result is that information was precious and hard to access. Today we carry an infinite amount of information in our pockets on our smart phone. Information has gone from precious to ubiquitous. So, if the measure of relevancy is purely information, libraries’ time has long since passed.
There’s more to it.
The mission of the library of congress: “…to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of American people.” In the mission statement of the American Library Association the most important phrase is “…enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”
“Information for all” vs “access for all”
That charge goes far beyond storing and distributing information. Those statements are democratic statement of access to all. The smart phone in your pocket isn’t cheap. And, it is only as good as the latest version. And, even with intuitive user interfaces, the responsibility is still on the user to get the information out.
Part of that charge is to help bridge the technology gap as well as further informational literacy. Libraries aren’t just repositories for information, they’re access points for technology and services. Libraries are community centers.
Google vs a librarian
What do you think gives you the best results? For straightforward questions, nothing beats Google. But, for complex questions with insight, discerning opinion and perspective, a librarian is your best bet. It isn’t the tonnage of answers we’re after, it’s the right answer we’re after.
Even with predictive search algorithms, your Google search is only going to be as good as the question (or the history of your questions) you’re asking. Sometimes you’re not going to know the exact question. Especially, if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for or how to ask. Librarians are like Sherpa’s. Not just information, but true answers.
Shushers need a new face
The Dewey decimal system seems like a thing of the past, but the image of a librarian is still etched in our brain – an elderly woman, hair pulled back very tight, glasses on a chain and resting on the tip of her nose and telling you to “shush.” It is a stereotype that hasn’t moved much.
The fact is librarians are the ultimate geek sheek. They’re at the front end of technology. And, if information is the currency of cool, there is nobody on earth that has more access to information than a librarian. Moreover, in a sharing culture, librarians should have the highest cred because they’re able to connect you with exactly what you want and need. They’re your personal Google search.
In the end, nobody is against libraries. You’re not going to see “anti library” stickers or t-shirts. But, you’re also not going to see a loud active group in support of libraries either. For most people, libraries have always been there and always will be. But, without a makeover in their image libraries may have a slow death by paper cuts. The paper cuts will be budget cuts.
What libraries need are a public relations and image campaign to more accurately depict how relevant they are and the kinds of services they provide. The mission of libraries is still true and relevant today. However, the delivery and understanding of the services needs to be polished up. Maybe like Google, let’s make library a verb.
That’s something I’d much rather hear, “Dad, just library it?”