Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fight Goes On.

Hmm, I was torn between War, Battle and Fight, but I went with Fight because I'm being optimistic and hoping this isn't a war. Because this is about libraries and what the business world is doing to kill them, dead.

I suspect that everyone but librarians wants libraries to become tools of corporations, to be Kindle support centers, or wireless hubs for Netflix streams, or whatever else is out there. But they don't want us to be libraries. Because libraries are run by librarians.

And that's the problem: librarians.

A recent post by Seth Godin attempts to define a librarian as something limited by format: print books are bad, digital bits are good. So librarians should become digital wizards, or something. I think the current hip term is "data sherpa who directs and engages conversations," or some other bullshit. And a librarian is bad if she's not continuously evolving and growing toes.

But a good librarian would never exclude a data format from the search results. You ask me for information on turtles and you're getting everything I can find, and that includes printed books. But chances are, you're going to wave your Kindle in my face and say, "I want it here." And regardless of my reply, my eyes will tell you to go fuck yourself.

Sixty percent of the world's people would kill to have a library filled with books. Some countries won't even let you into a library without proper identification. But Americans, on our rapid decent from being a world power toward become the world's bag boy, have lost sight of what has lasting value and moved on to what has recurring monthly fees. In response to Seth's Blog, Bobbi Newman says, "One of the many roles of the public library is to ensure that all people have access to that information."

And that is the fundamental difference with every current view of the library and the real purpose of the library: Libraries are for everyone.

Read a dozen news stories from the past year and there has almost always been some derogatory comment about the homeless sleeping in the library, or people looking at porn or Facebookers, or DVD renters or old people doing the crossword puzzles in the paper or whatever. As if these people don't deserve access to what they want, even if what they want is crap. And that's my job to decide. Not Amazon's job or Netflix's or Godin's. I'm the fucking librarian, motherfucker. I am not any corporation's bitch. And if I want books in the library, we're having books. And DVDs. And econtent. And graphic novels. And pie.

I see the war on the horizon. I see the battle here at our door. And the fight has been going on for years, as this is now 14 AG (Anno Google), and librarians have had to convince others of our relevance since the birth.

I understand that Seth is a book writer, and that he needs to make his ideas sound important. But I don't want to work in his library filled with computer terminals. I see that world each and every day and I don't like the crowd it attracts.

So I won't say Seth is totally wrong, but I think he sees libraries as some untapped reservoir of consumer dollars and that libraries should direct that energy into buying or selling more products. At least that's what I think when I hear phrases like, "create value."

I don't need anyone telling me what kind of librarian I should be. I'm the kind I always was, the kind I was trained to be: you ask for crap and I help you to find or do it. And I don't see that description changing, ever.

57 comments:

  1. Seems to me, more and more libraries actually have no librarians to ask for even crap... and more and more libraries are catering to those who use them, but don't vote, and ignore those who vote, but don't use them.

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  2. Think Seth Godin might have wanted to start with "We need librarians more than we ever did" rather than leaving it to the end!

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  3. Thank you. So tired by my local library "running it like a business" and buying toys while everything else rots.

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  4. Fuckin'-A, you rock!!

    I love books and especially libraries. I am NOT old-fashioned, out of touch with technology (I write about it for a living), resistant to change or anti- big business.

    Libraries/librarians are the last bastion of knowledge and information that is free for everybody. That's important.

    Thank you for standing up for those who do not have access to internet technology. The digital divide will never close without warriors like you.

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  5. At the Library:
    The children's section is dominated by toys, videos, and other distractions. Kids who, despite all that, want to read, are besieged by unsupervised little hellions running around between the stacks, cussing, and generally being disruptive. My taxes support the place, but still we get bitten by fees fairly regularly (over $100 in one year just before we stopped using the public library). My little guy constantly had to deal with librarians who tried to push him away from real literature (he loves Tolkien, Jules Verne, and Mark Twain) to baby books because he has a speech disability.

    At the bookstore:
    In a not very good neighborhood not far from where our family lives, there's a shabby little bookstore that buys castoffs from other stores and sells them at deep discounts. The manager always greets us with a smile. She knows my son likes the classics, and books about sharks. It's a grown-up place and you are expected to act like it -- misbehaving kids get a talking-to, and I'm pretty sure would be asked to leave if they persisted. Books are treasures, my son carefully counts out what he can get in his budget. Sometimes there are cookies in the reading corner.

    ---

    Libraries aren't being run like businesses. Businesses create an environment their patrons want to return to again and again. They don't tell off customers (even small ones who don't talk) for consuming what they have to offer.

    Even if my budget is just a spare $15 here and there, why would I go to the library?

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  6. @Hedge Madge It's lovely that you have space and money to spend on books of your very own. It's sad that someone wasn't perfectly nice to your son. You want to know why libraries don't run like businesses? Because then everyone who wanted a book would have to pay. And not everyone can. So enjoy the fact that you can pay to avoid the pushy librarians and disruptive hellions. It's a life of privilege.

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  7. Thank you for this. I've lived much of my life in one of those countries where you have to show ID to enter most of the precious few libraries that do exist. One of the two things that I miss most desperately when I've been away from the US for too long is the public library. Librarians rock my world. I would be devastated to see books, printed books, disappear from the libraries.

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  8. I love this! A few years ago, my city proposed the idea of actually shutting down a few library branches. I was appalled!! Thank goodness they came to their senses and vetoed that idea. I love libraries. Just the other day, I walked into a bookstore but my wallet was a little light and I said wait a minute! Go to the library dummy! The books are free (as long as you bring them back LOL). I love libraries and I don't care how modern or technical our world becomes, I don't see them going anywhere anytime soon.

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  9. :cheers: THANK YOU. On behalf of all my librarian friends, thank you. This is awesome.

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  10. When my library cut hours I was ready to pay with extra taxes to get them back -- yet the majority in my short-sighted, penny-wise pound-foolish community declined. They have no idea how lucky they are to have libraries at all. They have no idea what all this will actually cost us in terms of human potential, or if they do, they don't mind seeing us become more of a joke internationally than we already are.

    I support libraries, and I support librarians. I support equal and private access to books and information.

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  11. This is the best thing I've read all day.

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  12. Wooo! Awesome, just awesome.
    I spent my childhood in the tiny 2 room library in my small hometown. The librarian was a wonderful woman who helped me go through damn near every book in the fiction section, and ever said a word when I picked out the racy Anne Rice books at the tender age of 12.
    If only we could get the whole country to understand... but then again we are still fighting to keep evolution in the curriculum of our schools. Still, it's good to see there are still some kick ass librarians out there. The last few times I have been to a public library the only people working there were depressed looking volunteers who didn't know how to find a book without looking it up & checking the library layout map.

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  13. Thanks for writing this, libraries are an important resource and need to be valued. I have wonderful childhood memories of the library down the block and the librarians who helped and challenged me in my reading interests. .

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  14. Amen! LOVE the library. I just moved across the country to a small town in Pennsylvania. The first thing I plan to do when I get my new driver's license? Library card.

    Keep fighting the good fight. Books are treasures, and librarians are, too.

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  15. I fucking LOVE the library. And I'm teaching my son to fucking love the library. We use the hell out of our local library.

    Since he started talking and asking questions, my consistent answer has been, and will remain, "Let's go to the library and find out about volcanoes/ shooting stars/ how to take care of a dog..." And the librarians have been there for us, waiting patiently while he asked his questions, directing him to the books and videos. They were his first teachers and helped instill in him a love of reading and learning. When he learned to read, they hugged him, gave him high-fives... and a library card (otherwise known as an infinite supply of books).

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  16. Bless you. The other librarian where I work forwarded me that Seth's Blog article, implying that I was DOOMED because I was a FOGEY and we should throw out all of the books in the SCHOOL LIBRARY and go totally digital. To which I say, Fuck. NO.

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  17. Libraries are the cornerstones of a civilized society. They've been under attack since Nixon. Soldier on!

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  18. Thank you. As a current MLIS student this is the kind of library I want to build.

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  19. I wonder about people like Hedge who judge everything by their own experience. And anecdotes are not data. And what were the fees for? The only fees I've ever had to pay at the library are late book fees. Seems if I'd turned my book in on time I wouldn't have that problem.

    Here in Texas they want to fire most of the school librarians. They want to have one librarian for every three schools. I despair.

    Why does everything have to be run like a business? Unless you like living in a world were people with money get everything and people without get nothing at all. This goes into if-they-have-nothing-they-must-deserve-nothing territory. A place I'm not prepared to go.

    And I like a lot of things Godin says, but this does disappoint.

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  20. Get it girl. I completely agree with you and I'm a compulsive library user.

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  21. I love books and I love and support my local library system. I do also love my eReader and wish that there was content out there wherein I could borrow digital editions from my library. If it comes down to a choice in how limited $$ is spent, and more are served by physical book purchases than eBooks, then buy the books. I don't want someone else to go without so I can have in my preferred format.

    Digital books, and digital books available from a library, are not bad things. If something encourages someone to read, the format shouldn't matter.

    I look to librarians to, in part, be information professionals. To introduce me to content or sources that I would have never know how to find on my own, physical or electronic.

    If I ask a librarian for a search on turtles, I'll gladly take any source she's got. I promise to not wave my eReader in her face (how rude!), but to politely ask if some of the sources she has are available in ePub format. Hopefully she'll return my courtesy and not answer me with "go fuck yourself" in her eyes.

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  22. Team Librarian Fuck Yeah! Especially if they can declare PIE!

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  23. Wonderful post, thanks so much for writing it. Just wanted to drop a note of encouragement to say it's not only librarians who value what libraries can provide. Everyone who values the free exchange of information not controlled by profit-hungry corporations should as well, and many of us actually do.

    Also, not all authors are as deluded as this guy sounds. For example, YA author John Green actively encourages library use and opposes censorship.

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  24. If this is war, then I will follow you ardently into battle oh Captain, my Captain!

    Brilliant post. And so, so, so right on.

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  25. I read this & thought, "The guy from Knocked Up? WTF does he care about libraries?" But that's not who he is. I never heard of him; our library has none of his books.

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  26. I started writing a blog post about this very article, and the post caused my brain to asplode SO MUCH I didn't actually get it done yesterday. I got about half way through and was like *KABLEWY*. but yes, you've summed it up. There'll be DVDs, books, and PIE.

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  27. wow. thanks for all the feedback. you guys know I have books for sale on Amazon, right? just search for the.effing.librarian... just kidding. I have books for sale, but you don't have to buy one. thanks, again.

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  28. As a librarian I understand your frustration that there's more to life than ebooks.

    But as a technophile who grew up with computers, worked in libraries as a desktop support specialist, and who owns an ereader (NookColor), I see the future of libraries is tied into providing more electronic materials than ever before. My county library is offering classes on how to use Overdrive to download ebooks for checkout. More and more books are published via ebook format (especially self-published). We can't ignore the fact that more people will want ebook formatted materials.

    I argue we can have both: we need books and printed materials simply because not everyone owns an ereader or computer. And not every book works well in eformat. But we can't halt technology at the doorfront of the libraries and say "we don't take your kind here." We have to start looking at promoting Overdrive and other electronic lending sources more.

    The role of the librarian has not changed: the librarian is the finder and provider of information, reading material, visual material, what have you. Regardless of format. The real problem is that more and more people think that all anyone has to do is Google or Internet search and they'll find it... and not everyone is an expert at hunting information. We need to enlighten people about our role in this growing era of information overload: that a librarian can help you find things you didn't even know is out there.

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  29. *cheers*

    Thank you so much. Forwarding this to all the librarians in my life - of which there are more than a few.

    I work on a computer 3/4 of the time, but I could not live without books. Anyone who's ever visited my home or office knows that. You can not replace the tactile sensation of paper, the peace and quiet of sitting under a tree in the park with a book in your lap. For one thing, the screen glares and makes you tired, and for another, you can't see them damn things outside. And after awhile the last thing I want is something electronic staring back at me.

    I honestly don't know anyone who prefers reading on the computer to reading something printed out on paper, as much as we enjoy blogs, the online New York Times, and other forms of digital media. Also, a large number of my colleagues do the bulk of their corrections and comments on paper drafts. Why? Because it works. Sure, you can do quick changes on a screen, and I can type 90+ wpm, but often the thought process and creativity spins more satisfactorily with pen and paper.

    It's not just my Luddite tendencies coming out here. There are too many of us who may work at a computer, but relax with a book.

    Long live the printed word in books of paper and ink, the libraries that contain and distribute them, and the thoughtful, wise librarians who make them available to all.

    The End.

    Pee Ess. Please give the guy who commented before me a book on grammar. Sheesh.

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  30. You are SO right Libraries are for EVERYONE - it is the whole equal right of access to information, to education, to entertainment thing. Equal opportunity is a democratic right! Here in OZ only 60% of the population have internet access. I imagine the number of folk lacking a basic computer is not much less than the % of those not having internet access. I am a former librarian.

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  31. The library is there to give the people who don't have access to books, access to books. Those who have access do not need libraries at all. Those who don't have access need them desperately. I know this because I've been both.

    I borrowed 7 to 14 books a week from the local library between the ages of 13 and 18. No parent can buy their kid that many books.

    These days I only have time for about 2 books a week and I buy them for myself, but that does not mean that I am not absolutely thrilled for my taxes to go towards supporting libraries. I understand why we need them. Somewhere in town there is a kid who walks to the library twice a week who will feel exactly the same way I do in a few years time. How rich/poor that kid is has absolutely no bearing.

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  32. Cheers and applause...

    And yeah, I was one of those kids who borrowed a dozen books a week from the library, at least...

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  33. I admit that I don't use libraries regularly. But it is very nice to know that they are there when I need them, which happens every now and then. My parents both use the library at least weekly and often are on the waiting lists for several best sellers. I also have one friend who works in a library as an assistant and another who is in a Library Sciences Master's program now, and I know there's a lot of awesome things you guys do to help people who need it. Keep on keepin' on!

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  34. fyi: I also teach classes on downloading Overdrive ebooks and audiobooks; I connect laptops to our wifi; I attach resumes to emails, so I use and instruct on using tech. many librarians do all this, too. I don't read to children, but I treasure all the librarians who do, as they do it (mostly) enthusiastically every day.
    I was listening to NPR today and the CEO for Xerox was asked how she can change the public perception of the company and she said, to "change it is to do it."
    librarians may not be good at marketing what we do, but if we keep doing it, the word will spread: "librarians are awesome."

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  35. E-formats and Kindle have their uses but to think it can displace everything is to say holding a pdf of the dead sea scrolls is as good as actually holding the scrolls in our hands!

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  36. As a frequent user of university/academic libraries, I feel like the digitalisation of the main stock of the library is absolutely and completely necessary. If a class of 300 students is assigned an essay on turtles, I can guarantee you that two weeks before the essay is due, there won't be any books on turtles in the library - a problematic situation which could be solved if the librarian, instead of giving me a 'go fuck yourself' look, would digitalise the 2-3 most popular/requested books on turtles.

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  38. Thank you so much for this. Many librarians have attitude, but it is severely misdirected. You are showing attitude where it deserves to go and I thank you for that. I am your hereby your newest follower/subscriber

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  39. I'm with you on this whole thing, but especially the homeless / old people/ DVD watcher discrimination. I've worked in libraries for 5 years and the only time I judged anyone on what they were taking out was when this guy checked out The Complete Guide to Tantric Sex at the same time as The Five People You Meet in Heaven. But then I quickly realized where he was coming from: maybe his idea of heaven is having Tantric Sex with 5 people? Ok, I'm quitting now. Just keep fighting that good fight. And I'll remain cautiously optomistic about it too.

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  40. On the other hand, I love the Kindle and wish there would some kind of Kindle library. I used to love spending hours at the library, but now I'm disabled: limited mobility, have difficulty focusing one eye, and am paralyzed in one hand. The Kindle was a great fit (do your know how hard it is to hold a book open with one hand and not get cramps). It isn't perfect but it allows me to read again. I just wish it handled mathematics well, as I used to be a mathematician before I got a brain tumor.

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  41. BTW, I still support librarys even though I can't use them as much.

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  42. I'm on the board of the local Friends of the Library, and it seems that we're constantly battling to keep branches open. Who do we battle the most? OUR OWN LIBRARY DIRECTOR. We have a county-wide system in a largely-rural county (read: not high population density) and our director of libraries wants to shut down the branches furthest from the county seat and turn the rest of the outlying branches into specialist branches with emphasis on e-services or genealogy or youth. Fine, if you're a lot of close-together branches in a densely-populated urban area, but not so good if you're us.

    Fortunately, the FOL has been vigorous, organized and vocal in their opposition, writing letters to our elected officials, ensuring the public is aware of the threat, etc. Through our efforts, we've been able to secure a promise that no branches will be closed.

    Sadly, not every area has a Friends chapter. I think, in these troubled economic times, every library needs a Friend.

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  43. Here's an effing librarian logo in case you want to make shirts, buttons, etc. as a rallying cry. Free to use! http://www.evilreads.com/storage/fuckinglibrarian2.png?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1305820178607

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  44. Enh. I'm tired of the overspeak on all sides. There's room for everybody, book lovers and digital creators, at the library. Why does it have to be one or the other and why do you have to shout down the other side? And yes, I'm a librarian. I just find the tone here to be so violent it's almost comical. But I would buy the t-shirt. ;')
    And by the way, it would be great if you would open this up to comments without a person needing to sign in.

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  45. When I was in third grade the " children's " librarian came to my class and gave a talk about the library - i have been a 'bookoholic' since then - the library became my portal and passport to the world around me - the dream inside me - and ways to understand so much - libraries are always under attack from some quarter or other - usually in some furtive censorship manner - if we cannot have access to books - ebooks - virtual books - the ether - ideas - will be in danger(1984 - fahrenheit 451) of manipulation - deception and outright lies with no ability to find truth or to be able to think for ourselves - those who desire to end librarians or librarys will have to be defeated as many times as the battle call for - to enslave people - begins by the individual being cut off from every one else - physically - spiritually - emotionally and intellectually - - ex libris - that's a good battle cry

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  46. IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR "I'm the fucking librarian, motherfucker." shirts, www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com has made them and sells them with profits going to the American Library Association: http://bit.ly/k47iSv and http://bit.ly/l6oIBd (these are not my shirts, only my words)

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  47. I enjoy libraries and hold librarians in high esteem. For me, there is nothing like holding a book in my hands and turning the pages - hearing the paper scrape, the soft swhish of air, the feel of the paper. To me that is all about reading a book. Ebooks are great also, I download to read on my Iphone as I use to spend hours on the bus. But my preference will always be the real thing. Thanks for the post. I will stand behind you for sure.

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  48. I would really hate a library that was all digital. It should be more than that. It should be open to everyone...not just those people with e-readers or people that WANT those things. I really like actual books, paperback, hardback, whatever. That's what I want. I'd hate for all my reading to be on a screen. It would take away a lot for me.

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  49. Now that everything in life is about searching and retrieving information, you'd think we'd all know enough to be in awe of librarians and libraries. But Seth Godin is a pseudo-contrarian blowhard, and I've always thought if enough people ignored him maybe he would cease to exist.

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  50. I'm a writer, and I got much of my real education at libraries. In spite of all, they're still the People's University. They are also the access point for technology for people who don't have it. When I go to my downtown library branch, I see people filling the (vast) atrium well before opening time: predominantly people of color, predominantly poor from what I overhear of conversation, patient and shabbily dressed like folks from a Soviet-era queue. I get tired of the snotty attitude from people of the "print is dead, privatize everything, only losers don't have computers" school of thought. One dollar, one vote does not make for democracy.

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