Monday, May 23, 2011

The Future of Librarians is the Future for Everyone

To be honest, if I didn't work in a library, I wouldn't think much about them.

When I was in middle school, the library was a place to hide between the hallway beatings I got from bullies. When I got to high school, the library was a place to hide from school security while I skipped classes. But in college, that all changed and I learned to use the resources to find what I needed. Plus, they had back issues of Playboy.

I'm trying to imagine what the library would mean to me if I wasn't a librarian. And it's difficult, if not impossible. So I'll confess my bias and present my proposal.

I think libraries require a federal agency to combat online ignorance.

This is not a lie: a week before Tax Day, a guy came in to file. And so a peer gave him a slip of paper with IRS.GOV written on it. No mistake, it said, IRS.GOV.

After a while, the guy came up to the desk because he was having trouble printing and since he had closed out his windows, I asked him to get back to the site from where he wanted to print. And so he went back to IRSGOV.COM. Because that's where he went to file his taxes.

I think he got through the links to TaxAct and that's where he filed, but the point is that he was a fucking idiot. We didn't send him there. But we didn't type the address into the browser to get him there, either. So where should we draw the line at holding hands?

And that's where I think that there needs to be a federal agency established to keep stupid people from allowing the online digital world to fuck up their meat world lives.

We are actively discussing and planning for a Digital Public Library or a National Digital Library, or whatever it might be called, and if this happens, I think we also need National Digital Librarians. In fact, based on what I see in my library daily, we need them now.

We currently require Nutrition Labels to be printed on all food and supplement items, so why can't we begin to require Information Labels to accompany all Internet searches?

This new federal agency, possibly jointly formed by the FDA, CDC, NSF, NIH, FTC, could regulate Internet search results with this new label that would measure things like:
Reputation, Likes, Freshness, Backlinks, Ads, Cookies, Super Cookies and
Chances This Search Will Fuck Up Your Life Somehow.

I see a future where librarians are an essential component in the individual safety and education of each Internet user. And if we get close to creating this National Digital Library, librarians should make their voices heard and be part of it. And they need to remember to wash their hands.


  1. I've had similar patron stories (the guy who typed his name in the address bar thinking that's how he got to his email account, etc.) but do you think "librarians" as they're known today are the really needed for these? I mean, almost any teenager could have answered that question. Why do we need people with Master's Degrees to help these people?

    Surely, anyone can be paid much less and trained much less to get the same need met. Why must there be some artificially created gate that librarians must keep?

  2. I guess it's like any profession; you want someone with proper training. I know a 13-yr-old kid can save me from drowning, but I still want a lifeguard on the beach. I think the librarian is someone who's been trained to answer a wide variety of questions and to ask the right questions to help find the right information. This comes from training and experience, and usually training and experience is what brings the $$ in most professions.

  3. The question isn't "Why do we need people with Master's Degrees to help these people?" The question is "Why are our master-degree librarians having to helping these people instead of trained staff?" The answer is because budgets and staffing has been cut so severely that those with MLS degrees are the only ones left to do it. I'd much rather be interfacing with faculty, developing the collection, and managing than telling people where the bathroom is located and how to operate the copy machine.