Libraries Should Be About Books

It’s de rigueur nowadays for people to criticize libraries for being “too much about books.” The idea being that too many libraries are still stuck in the past, in outmoded service models, and failing to adapt to new technologies, trends, etc.

There is some truth in the criticism—although I also find that too many of these critics fail to be critical enough of new trends and tend too often to promote faddishness.

It makes me want to ask the obvious question:

What’s wrong with libraries being about books?

Books mean reading. Books are still the best, most valuable tool of a reading life. This makes books timelessly important—beyond fads, more enduring than ever-changing technology.

Books matter. Still and always. Because reading matters.

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Library Thought Leaders

On April 8, 2015, dolly m (@loather) tweeted the following:

dolly m pithily sums up something I’ve been wrestling with for the past few years, ever since I started working in a public library:

There are so-named “thought leaders” in the library community who make their living telling the rest of us how we should do our jobs. They travel from conference to conference, keynoting and presenting, speaking about the current state of librarianship.

Several of these thought leaders haven’t worked as librarians in an actual library in a long time. Some not since before the internet existed. Some of them have no first-hand experience of the practical realities of being a librarian in the Digital Information Age.

This makes it hard swallow when they presume to tell me how I should do my job.

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Digital Comics for Libraries: Good News!

In my recent interview for Corner Shelf, Rebecca Vnuk asked me what kinds of things my library’s collections are most in need of.

My answer: digital comics. Specifically—Marvel and DC.

As of June 25, 2015, hoopla digital offers DC titles in digital format. This includes titles from their Vertigo imprint. Their collection includes several of the most important issues and graphic novels in DC / Vertigo’s catalog: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, The Killing Joke, Gaiman’s Sandman

It’s not everything from DC but it’s a lot of the really good stuff.

This is huge. This makes me really happy. This could be a game-changer.

Kudos to hoopla!

hoopla digital logo

Public Library Reference: An Unscientific Test

I debated for several weeks about writing this post. Some of what I want to talk about I already discussed in my post, The Pain of Bad Reference Interactions. I think there’s more to say, though.

My concern is that I have some strong criticisms of the reference interactions I’ve had with some public libraries in the United States. I use no names and I leave out all identifying details—but it’s still possible that some of these libraries, or even some of their librarians, will be able to recognize themselves if they read this.

I have no desire to shame anyone with this post. I find online public shaming culture abhorrent and I refuse to participate in it.

I believe that criticism is necessary for improvement. I offer all criticisms in the sincere hope that it will help us all to serve our communities even better than we already do, and in my desire to help define the best path forward for public libraries in the Digital Information Age.

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Print Books vs. Digital Books & the Reading Brain

For a variety of reasons, for the past few days I’ve been thinking even more than I usually do about the differences between print books and digital books, and how our brain processes them. There are differences in how we read in different media, and it’s important for us to understand them. If our brain interacts with different formats differently, it means that different formats will best serve different purposes.

It’s our job as librarians to fulfill our patrons’ information needs as best we can. Selecting the best format for the information is increasingly important.

This is my latest attempt to summarize my understanding of how and why print and digital differ.

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The Pain of Bad Reference Interactions

People love to ask the question, “Why go to the library when you can just Google everything?” In answer, we tend to fall back on some version of Neil Gaiman’s famous quote:

Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.

We talk about the authority of librarians, our ability to sift through the vast oceans of data with a far better eye toward quality than any search engine can match. We talk about the personalization of the interaction—librarians can recognize not just the right answer, but the answer that’s right for you.

Often, people don’t know how to ask their question. Google is stuck with whatever you enter—if you ask your question the wrong way then you only get results that aren’t what you need, and you’re left to your own devices to try and figure out what went wrong. A librarian can figure out what you really meant and guide your search, to bring you information that’s actually useful in a much more intuitive and rewarding way.

I agree with all of the above. Librarians can serve people’s information needs in ways that Google, or any other online search engine, simply can’t.

Which is why it especially pains me every time I have a bad reference interaction.

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The Relevance of Libraries

On April 10, 2015, KCUR’s “Up to Date” program interviewed Prof. John Palfrey about the future of libraries in the Digital Age, the day after he gave a talk on the subject at the Kansas City Public Library. During the interview, KCUR tweeted a question meant to provoke discussion about the future of libraries:

Prof. Palfrey offers an optimistic and robust vision for the future of libraries, but even he frames the discussion in a way that implicitly fuels the fire for those who question their relevance.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the data and I have to say—I can’t understand how the relevance of libraries has come into question in the first place. It bothers me that we’ve allowed this question to define the discussion about their future. I can’t think of any other public or civic institution or service that can boast the kind of numbers that libraries do. I tweet-stormed some of the most powerful:

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The Role of Fiction in the Democratic Process

I talk a lot about the democratic mission of public libraries. I believe in it deeply.

However, if we believe that the core purpose of a library is to promote a well-informed democracy, it leads to an essential—and rather uncomfortable—question:

Why do we spend so much time and money maintaining popular entertainment collections if our duty is to provide materials that support our patrons’ involvement in our processes of governance?

What exactly does a library’s popular fiction collection have to do with promoting informed democratic elections? How does easy access to movies and TV shows serve to educate voters? *

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Good News – Gov. Nixon Agrees to Release Library Funds

Gov. Nixon’s office posted this press release this morning:

Following revenue increase, $43 million now available for priorities, Gov. Nixon announces (posted on April 3, 2015)

The now-available fund include $6 million of the funds he was withholding from libraries throughout the state.

Now to await the outcome of the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting for next year’s budget…