What's with all the library hate?

First of all, there's this rather head-scratching Hi and Lois strip from the other day:

So what's this strip trying to say, anyway? That people are going back to using the libraries because bookstores are closing, or even that library use is driving the bookstores out of business? Yeahbutwha...?

And then there's this anti-library screed posted by self-proclaimed Gen Y member the other day.

Adios Dewey Decimal thing, bonjour silence, hello information highway and konnichiwa iTunes. Today we have something I like to call a ‘desktop library’ at our fingertips. A desktop library has infinite pages of information, search optimization tools, it’s quick, it’s easy and portable; some refer to it as the Internet. Grab a drink, a bag of chips, turn on Aerosmith’s greatest hits and do some research, even glance back at Judge Judy if you so choose. Want to research the production process of Almonds? Well Google, Wikipedia, Wikianswers, Yahoo, and countless other search engines will bring this information to you, and very quickly. In a traditional library I would suggest you ask the secretary and begin what would turn into a wild goose chase of shelf navigating, book searching and page flipping.

(To expedite matters, I'll assume you already know why using Wikipedia as primary source material is a terrible idea and just move on to my point.)

I'll agree with Mr. Millennial here that the internet is probably the greatest research tool to come along in generations, and there is obviously lots of information available out there. But how much of that is good? Or even accurate?

That's why libraries are still - and will continue to be - important: because sometimes you need a guide. Maybe you're writing a dissertation on the almond industry or just want to know which stores in your area carry the wasabi & soy sauce flavored variety. Maybe that information is easy for you to find, but maybe it isn't, and you're wandering through Google for what seems like an eternity trying to find that one little nugget of information you need. You might not know what to look for, where to look for it, or even how to phrase your search correctly. It's good to still have a place where someone can show you where (or even how) to look for what you need, and hopefully adjust the typical search signal-to-noise ratio in your favor.

Not to mention the fact that there's still a lot of information out there that's still tucked away in actual books. I'm just sayin'.

I admittedly have a vested interest in the continued existence of libraries. I work at one and am (finally!) beginning my MLIS program in the fall, so it's pretty important to me that libraries don't go away. But I can't foresee a day where that could ever actually happen. Although the library may evolve, I legitimately don't believe it can become obsolete, even in an age where information surrounds us at an ever increasing rate.

Because here's the thing about the internet: look at it as every page of every book or periodical you can imagine. Tear all those pages out, and while you're at it, mix in some advertisements, cat pictures, dirty pictures, Scrabble tiles, whatever. Shuffle 'em up. Spin around and toss them up in the air, letting the wind spread all those pages EVERYWHERE. Now go look and find the answer to some question you have.

A little help probably sounds good right about now, huh?

3 comments:

Punk Johnny Cash said...

Once we can move from copyrights and towards information freedom all the remaining information in books will be on google books. I can often find books there I can not find in a library.

Shelly said...

Speaking as an actual public librarian (for 28 plus years now) and a former indexer for a major reference publisher, I agree with you completely. And you made the point very well.

Yes, libraries will likely evolve, but right now, there are a lot of people who don't access the internet from home. A third of them go online at their local library. An excellent article on the value of the libraries recently appeared in the Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-gagnier/reinvesting-in-a-national_b_526367.html

Libraries are not just about books. They're also a place people can go online for free, borrow music and other media for free, attend programs/lectures/performances for free, etc.

BTW, in Keith Richards' upcoming memoir, he confesses his other career choice, besides being a rock star, was to be a librarian. It's nice to know that a member of the Rolling Stones sees the value in the institution, too! :)

Bill D. said...

@PJC - Sure, but I firmly believe we're still a long way from copyright going away, especially so long as corporations have the lawyers, guns, and money to keep extending it. Also, libraries are more than just books. As the world goes electronic, so do libraries. In fact, I think you'll find a lot of your better ones are leading the charge, as well as finding new ways to remain a vital part of the community.

Shelly - Well said. And thanks!