Wednesday, February 25, 2009

slight glumness about the future of libraries


Mostly I am thrilled about libraryland, but occasionally I see libraries mirrored by people who do not use them or do not understand their value. The whole 'why do we need a library when everything is online' way of thinking. Plus, days when I answer more computer questions than library-related questions at the reference desk make me sad. Not to say that computer support isn't needed, but it usually does not require my master's degree in library and information science (MSLIS).

So this week, in the spirit of spring cleaning, I thought I would expand on some ideas that have been rattling around in my head:

-Libraries used to collect information by collecting printed books. How beautifully organized! Now, people are expressing their thoughts in books, videos, on the web, in online databases, etc. etc. etc. It's like watching a building turn into sand before your eyes, with the sand being blown to the four corners of the earth. How can you stop/control/organize/collect all of it? You cannot. All you can do is watch and try to maintain some kind of understanding of what is happening. (Or maybe you choose to ignore it and continue with what you have always done, assuming that anything important will make its way into a book eventually, until the building has completely disappeared?)

-So information is becoming dispersed, there is no obvious standard, inexpensive, efficient way for libraries collect and preserve new content, and suddenly libraries are far more limited in their scope than they once were. At times I wonder whether we are returning to a time when (wealthier) individuals maintained their own private collections, rather than funding institutions to do the same. In some ways this is very democratic, but it also forces the individual into a position of real civic responsibility -- free from having to go to the library, true, but ultimately playing a very serious role in the life of the world's information.

-Over the past few weeks I read these articles:
Where Have All the Bookstores Gone in LIS News
The Library Web Site of the Future by Steven Bell
Wall Street Journal to Close Its Research Library as reported in American Libraries online,
all of which seem to increase a certain gloominess about the future.

-Obviously, as libraries change so must librarians. We are no longer simply collectors and maintainers and gatekeepers. As pertinent witnesses to what I described above, we are responsible for explaining what has happened, and for clarifying and assisting those in the new (dusty) landscape. I am referring to instruction librarians in the traditional and the online classroom, librarians responsible for plagiarism prevention, and librarians as the sole instructors for classes such as basic reading, basic computing or basic research. We are also responsible for evaluating any new standards that may emerge. And obviously, we need to keep maintaining our collections to the best of our abilities, as well as the systems surrounding those collections.

Most of what I'm saying here I heard in library school. In fact, mid-semester it's so busy right now at the library that it almost seems ridiculous for me to bring this up. And I for one still use books very frequently -- but only as one of many sources of information available to me.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific Daffodil photo / Sap dripped onto foreground shoot? / Now under snow / But not for long!