Chapter 11: Opinions on “Libraries”

I woke up this morning to find a substantial portion of my Twitter feed all discussing the same article (I follow a lot of librarians, obviously). I’m not going to bother providing a link to it – for one thing, I don’t want it getting any more hits and for another, it is nothing that I haven’t read before. Honestly, I don’t think there was an original thought in the entire piece (let alone a researched thought…). It’s the type of article that seems to pop up every couple of months: “Why Libraries Are Dying,” or something along those lines. As one of the librarians on Twitter noted, it’s always the same sort of person writing it too – male, young, super geeky/techie, totally blind to their own privilege. This particular author works for Google, a pertinent fact he pointedly does not mention amidst his soliloquy to the wonders of the internet, and especially, Google Books.

It’s always the same arguments too – why do we need libraries? We have e-books and Kindles and iPads and smartphones and all the information we could ever need is on the internet! Sure, they used to be great and all but look at me, being brave and bold enough to call for the end of libraries! I’m just facing reality folks. 

Pro tip dudes: In a super-opinionated article about libraries, maybe you shouldn’t admit you haven’t even been to a library in years. 

And of course, they respond the same way too – Oh what’s that? Libraries are doing all these interesting/important things like providing community spaces, providing access to high quality digital databases (which are anything but free), being on the forefront of maker spaces movement, overcoming the digital divide, being an important center of learning and culture? None of which I bothered to research or look into? You’re all just kidding yourselves – that’s not really a library in the way we all think of libraries! (Not kidding- that’s almost exactly what he said). 

So basically, you have an extraordinarily narrow view of libraries, one that has either been outdated for decades or a romanticized version of something that never actually existed. You did no research into what libraries are actually doing. You have no concept of a world where not everyone has the latest and greatest gadgets (let alone the skills to use them). And yet, your poorly written, barely cogent article gets all the page views. Of course. 

But the worst part, for me, is the responses that follow these types of articles – the ones who rush to defend libraries (again, most of them not written by librarians). They’re just as bad! Emotional, rhetoric based fluff pieces that give everyone warm and fuzzy feelings about “libraries,” which are conceits just as outdated/romanticized as the “libraries” people criticize. 

It’s a cycle I’d love to break, largely because I see the effects of it all the time. When I tell people I’m studying for my masters in library and information science, I get two reactions. An opinionated, “libraries are obsolete, you know,” sans any facts or logic or experience. Or, an equally opinionated, “well I just love libraries, you know,” also sans facts, logic or experience. And I’m at a loss of how exactly to respond to either of them. Not for lack of possible arguments or facts, mind you (our subject for tomorrow’s 511 class actually). It’s figuring out how to get past the remarkably enduring cultural idealized conception of “LIBRARY,” shared by supporters and detractors alike.  





Thanks especially to the following people on Twitter: @jacobsberg, @mciszek, @wawoodworth


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