Traditional vs. Modern Libraries

Kim Leeder at In the Library with the Lead Pipe wrote a fantastic and thought-provoking piece about the rhetoric that characterizes the debate between so-called “traditional” and “modern” libraries. It’s worth the read!

Adventures in Rhetoric: The Traditional Library (posted on June 5, 2013)

This is the comment I left on her article:

We get so caught up in comparing the form and practical functioning of different types of libraries that it becomes all too easy to believe that these forms and functions are the definition of a library. We must remember that form and function are merely strategies employed to try and achieve deeper goals and serve essential functions in our communities.

By throwing these differences in library form and function into stark contrast, it highlights what aspects of librarianship are artifacts of circumstance, and what represent the underlying and enduring purposes and values of libraries.

These changes, this evolution, is a powerful opportunity for us to reflect on our core reasons for existence, independent of our circumstantial functioning.

From this perspective, ALL options and resources, ALL working models and theories, are equally available to us, and all equally subject to assessment and evaluation. “Traditional” vs. “modern”, physical vs. digital – each is unique and potentially useful to our patrons, each has its limits.

If we focus on purpose and not on format, it resolves this entire debate and allows us to move forward with all extant information tools available to us.

I feel very strongly that this entire debate over “traditional” vs. “modern” librarianship is a misleading distraction. It focuses on the wrong things. Everything we do – whether we do it “traditionally” or using more “modern” techniques – has to be in service to our core values, the purpose we serve in our communities. “Traditional” vs. “modern” only matters to the extent that these different techniques help or harm us in our attempts to serve. They should never be used, in and of themselves, as definitions of libraries. We must define ourselves through our values and our purpose and our service to our community.

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