I just read this post on TechCrunch:
The End Of The Library by MG Siegler (posted on October 13, 2013)
Obviously, this post is generating huge reactions among some librarians. There’s not a lot for me to add to the discussion on the future of libraries that I didn’t say in my post Another Librarian’s Response to “What’s a Library?” and in my response to Terry Deary when he suggested that libraries are no longer relevant.
He doesn’t see our research resources, our literacy initiatives, our job search assistance, our government documents collections, or our social services. He doesn’t see our partnerships with local school systems and cultural institutions. He doesn’t see community use spaces and safe places to for people to hang out. He doesn’t see a champion of informed democracy and self-improvement. He doesn’t see librarians as curators of information, experts to guide people through society’s myriad information resources.
Marianne Lenox correctly called out Mr. Siegler’s assumption of privilege on Twitter:
— Marianne Lenox (@MLx) October 14, 2013
I’ve written several posts on this blog that I could cite to refute one or another of the specific arguments he posits, or to suggest several issues he never thought to bring up in his analysis:
- Conveying Authority
- Public Libraries Matter
- Why Libraries Are Relevant in the Google Age
- Traditional vs. Modern Libraries
- This Is Why Libraries Are Important
- Information Tsunami
- Unintentional Knowledge
- 5 Myths About the ‘Information Age’ by Robert Darnton
(and there are probably more)
What bothers me most, though, is how Mr. Sigeler, like so many others, assumes that libraries can’t be relevant in the future just because he personally can’t envision it.
Mr. Siegler’s argument about the “irrelevancy” of libraries rests on an understanding that completely ignores the long and rich history of libraries adapting to new needs and new technologies. This idea that libraries today are the same now as they were 100 years ago is laughably, egregiously misinformed. Libraries have always changed and evolved – radically, over and over again; there’s no reason to assume we won’t do so yet again.
Because a library isn’t a building. It isn’t even a collection.
A library is a service—and the service will continue, in whatever form it takes, as long as information exists, and as long as there exist people who want help finding their way through it.
Mr. Sielger is correct that “the connected world has far better access to basically infinitely more information than can be found in even the largest library—or all of them combined.” [emphasis original]
I agree that this is, in fact, a very good thing.
But the sheer volume of information available to us means we need guides who specialize in leading people through it—effectively, efficiently—more now than ever before. Information literacy skills are essential in this Information Age and that’s exactly the skill set librarians specialize in.
The skills of librarians are more essential now than they’ve ever been. Libraries will evolve to put those skills to the service of their communities, as they always have, in whatever way works best.
Within minutes (literally) of me posting & tweeting this, ALA tweeted a link to this article:
Surprise! It’s the Golden Age of Libraries by Gina Sipley (posted on PolicyMic on October 11, 2013)
And there’s another big thing people like Mr. Siegler entirely fail to account for—ALL the data we have from at least the past decade shows that library usage (especially public library usage) has risen, dramatically in some cases. Despite Mr. Siegler’s unremittingly solipsistic view of these things, more people are using libraries now than ever. How does that fit with his argument?