Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Libraries for Dummies

The American Library Association is trying to find ways to make libraries more accessible to the digitard generation that plays video games and surfs the net all day, but who can't figure out how to use a library catalogue or follow the argument in a book. In keeping with this era, they're pitching it as a case in which the ''digital natives'', namely real-world illiterates, are averse to dealing with their intellectual inferiors, namely people who are still able to read and understand books. And, glory be, they're actually trotting out that old anti-intellectual lie about librarians, and anyone who can read for that matter, being a bunch of Ivy Tower Snobs.

“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “altar of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”

Yeah, what a bunch of assholes. Incidentally, can anyone relate to that bizarre analogy? Have any of you ever been in a library and thought to yourself ''Man, this place is just like a Catholic church"?
I've actually spent much of my life in libraries and have yet to meet the battle axe librarian of lore. In fact, I've found that libraries are generally completely open with their ''information'' and bend over backwards to help their patrons. However, the IT professionals who comment on the article with bullying drivel about the supposed ''irrelevance'' of anyone whose skill set might be different from their own come across as the real snobs here. Why do calls for ''democratization'' always require us to find some group that isn't sufficiently ''democratic'' and scapegoat them? Maybe the ''digital natives'' just aren't very well educated- why are we so afraid to state the obvious that we need to hide it behind these flattering euphemisms?


Jill said...

I'm a reference librarian. Thanks first for sharing the article. I hadn't read that one yet.

This guy actually suggests things that librarians have been doing for some time. Nothing new.

I'm personally not an information priest. Didn't go library school seminary. I learned from some great older librarians that information and libraries are for everyone.

Rufus said...

I don't think I've ever met a librarian who didn't want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome at the library. I think that's what annoys me when people claim that the non-readers would be more interested in hanging out in libraries if librarians were just nicer to them.

Jill said...


I'd say that they don't hang out in libraries. Or when they come in, they have a chip on their shoulder.

I've had people who are absolutely sure that they know more than me, even when it's apparent they don't. Maybe those were IT people who thought I had nothing to offer.

It's too bad that there isn't a better relationship between our two groups because I love what technology can do for libraries...and what it's already done. It's so cool to sit in Kansas and be able to look at stuff from libraries all over the world. Digital libraries and digital collections are great!

Rufus said...

I think that better relationships will develop. However, I have to say that most of the tech people that I've known weren't big readers anway.

Holly said...

Maybe we are entering a second Dark Age, when librarians will have to preserve the dimming flame of knowledge against a burgeoning horde of the unwashed, who have no use for book learning, because it cannot help them defeat the monster at the end of the 9th level of their video game?

Let's all pray for another renaissance.

I *have* met the librarian from the beginning of Ghostbusters. That does happen. I have met librarians who would really prefer that people not touch the books so much, although frequently they'll compromise if you just put down your soft taco and maybe? please? wash your hands just a little.

But, to cease lampooning and speak to your point, I believe the issue people have with librarians is that many people hate to read. Real hate. They find it tedious, painful, and really, why bother, when the TV will tell them things in an easier, more picture-intensive, sound-effect-rich scheme, not covered in all those little fucking things that crawl all over the pages like deformed ants, whachacallums, ... letters. Fuckers.

I used to think these people were assholes, that they were jerks for rejecting knowledge. In fact... I believe they are a pretty ordinary kind of thing, and not necessarily even stupid people.

I did some collaborative sculpture with a guy who straight up refused to read books on the mechanical and chemical principles he needed to know to do his parts of our collaboration... but he went and talked to a LOT of people who had read the books, and he benefited from their experience anyway. He actually picked up adjacent ideas that would not have been on hand, had he simply rummaged subject specific books for the info.

Point being, hostility toward bookish things isn't necessarily an anti-thought stance, even if it often comes across that way.

Rufus said...

Harold Bloom has said much the same thing- that there have always been people who just don't enjoy reading and it's not worth worrying about. I think they can be fairly smart, although I do find that non-readers aren't particularly good at following verbal arguments either. Also I think their ranks are growing.

I actually have started stockpiling books, just in case.