Luddite Librarians

Digital technology is part of our job now, whether we like it or not.


This post is the first of two that I plan to present as a point / counterpoint kind of thing. Read the second post here.


Every library, it seems, has a handful of staff members who just won’t get onboard with new technology and new digital services. Some of them even make it a point of pride—they see themselves as stalwarts, holdouts against unnecessary change.

Some say they’re too set in their ways and technology changes too fast to keep up with it. Some flat out don’t trust new technology or digital information resources.

As a profession, we grimace and shrug and resign ourselves to the fact that some of our coworkers are going to be like that.

But consider it from a different angle:

Imagine a science teacher who insists on teaching their class from a 20-year-old textbook. They refuse to use anything newer because they’re too set in their ways, they can’t keep up with the rapid pace of change in their field, and they don’t really trust the newest science anyway.

This teacher would lose their job.

We all recognize that it’s a bad idea to teach science from 20-year-old concepts, many of which have been proven wrong and discarded. It’s irresponsible to teach science that ignores 20 years of new data and ideas.

It’s the teacher’s job to keep up with developments in their subject area. If they can’t keep up, then they’re no longer qualified to do their job. It does students a tremendous disservice to allow such a recalcitrant to teach them.

Similarly, it’s the job of librarians to help the members of our community successfully navigate the world of information. It’s our job to teach the information literacy skills they need to effectively function within the information environment of our society.

We might not like or trust new technology—but this is a huge part of our patrons’ world, whether we’re comfortable with it or not.

We might not like or trust digital information resources—but the digital information world is where our patrons have to live. That’s the world they need to learn how to navigate, whether we’re comfortable with it or not.

If a librarian can’t keep up with new technologies and digital services, then they can’t fulfill this part of the job.

If a librarian willfully refuses to learn new technologies and digital services, it’s the same as willfully refusing to provide essential services to their patrons.

Not every librarian needs to be a digital librarian. We continue to need librarians who know how to effectively navigate non-digital information resources. Such resources continue to be essential.

But every librarian who deals directly with the public should at least know enough to handle most of the questions our patrons have about digital technology and information resources, to feel comfortable exploring the digital realm and finding answers.

Anything less does a tremendous disservice to our community.

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