Recently I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper (Macomb Daily February 10, 2011). In the letter, I urged the new governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder not to cut state funds for libraries. The comments that were posted, were to say the least, disheartening. It is amazing to see in my own community there are citizens who don't know, don't care and don't come to their local library. My first response was to be hurt. Time to lick the wounds, again. How many times have I heard the arguments against libraries? They are always the same and eventually it always comes down to calling libraries and librarians "dinosaurs". Next came the anger. Again, the blood starts to boil and the terms, "useful idiots" come to mind. What else could they be? People who don't think for themselves and go along with the popular "idea" that the Internet has EVERYTHING. It is too bad that they buy that line, because they are missing out on so much more that the library has to offer. Last, the idea came to mind, if at first you can't convince them, educate them. It's time to educate the Don't Know, Don't Care and Don't Come crowd.
Let's begin with the basics of helping them find their library. In our virtual world it is easy to get directions from home to anywhere in the world. However, with this crowd, they don't think they need a library, let alone want to ask for directions on how to find the local library. What is a savvy librarian going to do to draw this tough crowd into our world? Go where they hang out. Internet cafes, bars, bowling alleys, or where ever. Get to know them so they can get to know what the library has to offer. Show them how easy it is to access databases, ebook downloads and in some cases homework help for children. That can be done all at the cafe, the bowling alley and even from home. It's a safe bet that this crowd does not even realize the resources that are available.
The next step is to invite or if need be, challenge them to come to the library to discover what they have been missing. Host an Open House, where everyone in the community is invited to meet the library staff and tour the building. This is a good time for librarians to remember that libraries are not just about books, they are about people. This message needs to be repeated loud and often. Libraries are places where people of all ages can come to educated themselves on any topic they wish. Not only are there books, movies, and periodicals. There are fantastic library programs that are not available anywhere else within the community. Programs range from, story times for children to planting spring gardens to Estate planning. Invite this tough crowd of library naysayers to explore everything that the library has to offer. Afterward, ask them if they still believe that their libraries are obsolete.
Finally, as professional we have to educate the naysayers that The internet is not a replacement for librarians. The best way to demonstrate how librarians are necessary is to show how technology has affected other fields. For example, the other day, a program about modern medical technology caught my attention. It was astonishing to learn how robotic arms were now performing some of the more delicate procedures that years before were the responsibility of surgeons. This piece of technology helps to reduce error during an operation. It does not completely remove the need for a doctor. Ask yourself, would you feel comfortable if your surgery were to be done by a programmed robot and not a capable surgeon? Of course not! Any sane person would want the doctor, and the robotic arm would be an extra but not a necessity. The same is true in the case of the Internet and librarians. The Internet is wonderful for some tasks, such as looking up stock prices or finding the latest news headlines, however it is not a replacement for what librarians do on a day to day basis. When complex research or homework questions can not be answered with a quick click of a mouse, a librarian is able to direct patrons to the sources that contain the precise answers patrons need and want. The internet is just a tool, nothing more.
Going about educating the library naysayers may seem like it will be daunting. However, I'm convinced, that if everyone who loves libraries would help reach out to this crowd in a grassroots efforts to save libraries, mountains of misinformation can be moved! Libraries could and can be saved.