Friday, May 17, 2013

Why the Library?

As a librarian, I am unfortunately often tasked with the job of defending libraries. I've had smart, good people with lots of letters after their names sincerely (and politely) ask me, "Aren't libraries a dying institution?"

In my own job as well, I do believe that my particular employer would do away with the library altogether if it weren't an accreditation requirement. :-(

It's not that everyone hates the library. Everyone "likes" the library just fine. But just because one has no enemies does not mean that one has allies.That's the opinion of Jason Kramer in his article The Downside of Being Universally Liked.

Kramer likens the library to a hammer. A hammer is important, but nobody thinks much about all the things we couldn't do without it. Like a hammer, the library is "not an end in itself, it is a means to an end."

Kramer goes on to say, "academic and research libraries make innovation possible. These libraries provide the raw material—information—that is needed to fuel researchers, incubators, and entrepreneurs."

And to paraphrase further:

Want to find out about grant money won by public colleges?

  • Go to the library.
Need to encourage public-private partnerships and start-up companies?
  • The library can help.
Want to lower the cost of business for job creating entrepreneurs?
  • Give them access to information.
Improve faculty recruitment and academic standing?
  • Improve the library.
Want to cultivate jobs, improve workers skills, or help someone find a job?
  • There is the library for that.
In other words, for nearly any policy issue, supporting the library is important to achieving the goal.

Hear, hear!

Now, for those of you (certainly not my readers! but, you know who I mean) who point to the internet as a replacement for libraries, let me remind you that using the Internet as a library is akin to a using a forklift to find a needle in a haystack. Libraries aren't just collections of books. They are highly organized and systematically arranged according to deep and complex principles of information design and management. Librarians are the people who know how to find things when Google fails because librarians know how knowledge is organized.

Information and knowledge has and always will need to be organized in order to be useful. The Internet is not an organized place. Librarians can do better.

For the full Kramer article, click this link:

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