Saturday, November 07, 2009

Librarians against libraries

“Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead,” said Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University. “Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.”
-From an article in Inside Higher Education on the "bookless library"

And maybe she's right. But, there's something strange to me about the fact of a dean of libraries informing the rest of us that libraries are dead. If anyone should be trying to keep the things alive, one would think it was those who serve as stewards to textual knowledge; librarians, deans of libraries, and so forth. And yet, whenever I read articles on "the future of libraries", it can be assured that they will interview at least one library professional who will tell us that the very cultural institution that they were given stewardship of is now dead and the rest of us had better get used to it. The general consensus seems to be that libraries used to be places in which books were stored, but now the 'consumers' don't read books, and probably can't read books. So, from now on, libraries are meeting places with internet access. Step with me now into the future!

Can you imagine if, every time there was an article on the future of the Church, there was a Priest quoted who said, "Let's face it; the church as a place is dead. We need to move on." You might think they were nuts. You might really think that they were totally insane, trying to cut off the branch that they sit upon in order to court favor with uninformed public opinion. Father McKay was quoted as saying: "Let's face it, the whole idea of congregating to pray and listen to sermons is so kaput. Let's move on to whatever comes next. Please, don't hit me." How about a teacher who said, "Let's face it- schools are dead. Let's figure out what comes next."

Of course, in the case of Priests, people still want them to maintain the cultural institution that they uphold. Even if that means they seems "outdated" or out of step with what's going now, we look to them to know just what the institution is supposed to be. But, in the case of librarians, they apparently look to us to tell them what we would like a library to be. And, if that means that the people who come to libraries to hang out and fuck off get to have the final say, well then there just happen to be more of them than there are of those of us who go to libraries to read. And, in the end, numbers rule. Fifty million Elvis fans can't be wrong.

And so, you go to the academic library, but you can't use the card catalog because it's online and all of the terminals are being used by members of the Internet-addicted generation who are too busy "Facebooking" to look up titles. Besides, the actual books are now in storage- it takes 24 hours to get them delivered to the library. Putting books in a fucking library would be a waste of space. The lounges, where people once read those outdated books, are now fitted with flatscreens on the walls for the people who feel uncomfortable whenever they're not staring at a glowing digital rectangle. And you can get coffee, but not books, within the library.

No, of course people don't go there to read any more. Yes, the library as a place is dead. Because, as the caretakers of that place, people like you have totally and completely betrayed your sacred duty and made the place worthless for the people who entrusted you with stewardship of the library. And now the people who couldn't care less for reading books get another hangout to stave off the boredom that comes with having no intelligence or imagination whatsoever. Yipee.

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