Friday, October 26, 2012

A dying profession?

This Forbes article kinda reminded me watching the Obama Romney domestic policy debate.  It was just painful because of the blatant deception.  Now granted, the state of libraries is not in the most secure position at the present time, but they are certainly not so far gone that it is time to discuss their impending doom.  Budgets remain extremely tight, Internet usage has led some to believe that we don't need books anymore, and eBooks provide yet another format for information.  The public continues to need guidance in the effective use and consumption of information.

Libraries are an essential tool to remedy the economic situation that is status quo.  For example, on Wednesday October 3rd, the Business and Social Sciences Division of Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County held a small business planning workshop in which small business owners were able to receive expert guidance from a certified business adviser regarding effective small business planning.  An other essential service libraries provide is educating the public on basic computer usage, such as Internet searching, using email, and completing online forms and job applications.  Services such as these are essential to moving society up and out of this stagnation we've termed the great recession and resolving issues relating to the digital divide.  Many individuals uncomfortable with computers mostly need social support while navigating learning a new skill set, and the library is the most logical place to seek out support.

On another front, there are the less educated, non-critical thinking people with money enough to enjoy high speed internet connection, perhaps even on a highly portable device.  Poor information literacy skills among this group is among the greatest challenges currently facing American culture.  This problem is especially exacerbated by the inadequate funding and staffing of school libraries.  Whenever I hear someone complain about libraries based on the idea that "everything" is online, I worry that all their imaginary Facebook and Twitter friends have been chattering away too much about what people think they do as compared to what they really do and offering TMI about the prior nights alcohol induced exploits.  Sometimes you don't realize that you need to know something until after you know it.  Sometimes it is easy to forget what quality information looks like if you haven't seen it in a while.  Are Facebook friendships a suitable replacement for equal time of interactive face to face communication?  You decide. Which makes you happier? I think I hear Pavlov ringing a bell... or maybe that's my cell phone.  Facebook notification.  BRB...

Libraries adequately staffed by qualified librarians are perhaps the most efficient format for improving the overall intellectual health of a community.  The absence or presence of a particular format (i.e. print vs electronic resources) will not change this simple fact.  When there is a physical space available for individuals to visit independently or in groups that is stocked with carefully selected, high quality materials specifically geared to meet the informational needs of the community of users it exists to serve, and qualified professional staff are present to assist users in quickly finding specifically what they need to know to meet their goals, I do not understand how anyone can argue against the value of libraries.  Healthy libraries are essential to a healthy capitalistic democratic society. 

Librarians are trained to promote understanding regarding what information is needed.  We cannot assume that this is obvious.  Google overuse has led some individuals to falsely believe that it if isn't online it isn't worth knowing, or it isn't available anywhere.  It is the responsibility of every educated person in society to remind others that the resources readily available for free on the Internet are not exhaustive and they are not always of adequate quality.  Look deeper.  Ask a professional.  For example, I remember one patron I helped was using to try and find a science project for a 6th grade science fair. She spent about 45 minutes without success.  She was nearly finished with her allotted Internet time when she came to ask me for help. In about five minutes I located a book owned by the library (Arnett branch) that had clear specific instructions for the precise science fair project she had in mind.  I will never forget the smile on her face when she said, "I should have asked you first! I've wasted so much time.  Now I can go to the hardware store and get started."

Librarians are skilled at evaluating materials.  The present age in which we live is marked by an overabundance of information.  So can one tell which resource to use?  Which author is the most trustworthy?  How does one go about narrowing and organizing the vast ideas available so that the specific information needed is easy to use?  These are some of the questions librarians have in mind as they carefully select materials to suggest and display to patrons visiting the physical library.  These principles are even more important when seeking electronic resources because electronic resources are not always edited or professionally examined before they are published.  Anyone can post on the Internet.  Anyone can publish an eBook....  When in doubt, ask a professional.

Physical libraries are also important in that they provide collaborative space for group study.  Knowledge cannot exist in a vacuum. It is collectively defined.  What better place to meet than one filled with informational resources to meet the collective needs of the group?  It's almost like the Internet... only physical.  Imagine that! Perhaps one day it will even be possible to borrow an ebook pre-loaded on a digital reader....  Does the Internet make everything easier?  I'm not so sure the answer is as obvious as we might first think.

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