Bandwagonning regarding the Future of the Library

This blog post by Seth Godin has been making the rounds on various library/librarian blogs. Lots of people have expressed their opinions, whether of support or dissent towards the post. I guess it’s my turn. I’m nothing if not overly critical of things, so this should be fun =)

It appears to me as if he is showing a progression of people’s perception of libraries throughout various technological innovations. He beings with the idea of libraries as a warehouse for books for sharing. When books were expensive, this was the main perception of libraries – as a place to access knowledge that the common person could not afford.

He next goes on to point out the idea of the library as a house for a librarian. This part, I don’t quite understand his point. By saying that with the decreasing costs of books and the increase in knowledge production, is he suggesting that the librarian has become an integral part of the library. Sure, I buy that idea – if only because the history of libraries shows that we acted first as guards to this knowledge, that the stacks that we are used to did not exist before and that people had to ask librarians to GET books for them, rather than browse.

He then addresses the issue of a separation between librarians and libraries. While libraries are still the storage facility for books and physical materials, librarians have to be knowledgeable about both these physical items and their digital counterparts. As librarians, we can’t just assume that we have to LIVE in a library – we have to be willing to move beyond such relationships and be willing to live everywhere and nowhere.

I think, in the end, we both agree on what we think is the future of libraries – we are no longer just warehouses for books, but a community center as well, a knowledge center, a technology center. While many librarians will bristle at the idea of working in a community/knowledge/technology center, this is the way that information is moving. We have to be able to adapt to a changing information environment and answer the needs of our constituency. If not, then we aren’t really fulfilling our duties as librarians.

Really, what he expresses aren’t new ideas. I think what caused the uproar was that he is a non-librarian bringing up these issues, almost as if he is attacking libraries. He isn’t – shouldn’t we be grateful that the plight of libraries is being addressed by someone OTHER than librarians? Increased visibility and acknowledgment, you know the drill…

Aside: I especially like that he acknowledges that the new library should be a place. I think people forget that one of the best things about libraries is its physicality. While I appreciate the idea of a digital/virtual library, nothing that I have seen can replace the actual design of a library building, the space it occupies, the perspective you gain by sitting in one. Until we develop a platform through which we can replace spatial relations, I think I’ll be a fan of a library building for a while.

Seth’s Blog: The future of the library.

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