R.I.P. Libraries?

The Good Old Days at Greensboro Public

The Good Old Days at Greensboro Public

As a librarian and a book collector, I suppose I should be concerned about this article from CNN entitled, “The Future of Libraries With or Without Books.”

Libraries are changing — and changing dramatically.  And I agree that books are on their way out — or at least they will not be as important for the libraries of the future as they once were. 

But I would lay emphasis on two points which are not really made in the CNN article.

First, I think modern libraries will continue to play a very important role in providing services to society’s information have-nots.

It is true that as virtually every conceivable type of information gradually becomes available in some type of digital format, folks who can afford their own computers will depend less and less on libraries. 

However, those who don’t have computers find themselves at a tremendous disadvantage.  For example, just try to find or apply for a job these days if you don’t have access to the internet. 

That’s where libraries come in.  We’re the social safety net for these information have-nots; in my opinion, this is an essential part of the mission of public libraries — now, and in the foreseeable future.  

And this is why adequate funding for public libraries remains important.  Society must embrace the idea that we have a social responsibility to provide our information have-nots with access to information — just as, for example, we provide medical care to the indigent.  

Secondly, librarians need to be more than just hip computer geeks with a Facebook page or a familiarity with Twitter — I think the article placed far too much emphasis here.  

Many library environments are very challenging.  Patrons in libraries may have special needs, such as a physical handicap or mental illness.  They also frequently lack the information literacy skills necessary to obtain the information they need.  And, as libraries morph further into social gathering places, librarians must also ensure that their facilities afford a safe and welcoming environment for patrons.

The truth is, that on any given day at a busy inner city library — such as Greensboro’s Central Library — a librarian will wear many hats — and may in a matter of moments find himself or herself transitioning from counselor to teacher to conflict mediator.  Above all, and I think in keeping with the social responsibility ethic which forms the foundation of our mission, librarians simply need to enjoy helping people.

But, anyway, yes, libraries are changing.