Friday, September 28, 2012

The Human Connection At The Library

It isn't a radical thought to believe that libraries are the places that can be described as "connectors". Every library has one similar goal in common, connecting people to information. Many librarians will say that libraries "brand" in terms of marketing is books. That's may be true, however going into the digital age where computers are becoming increasingly important tools to everyday life, how does our brand, "books", help us or hurt us? How will libraries respond to the digital age to remain relevant, reliable and resourceful assets to the community? One of the main concerns that should be in the forefront of the library profession is the role that the digital world plays in human interaction. Take for example, how teens interact today with their friends. It is not uncommon to walk into the teen area of a library and catch them texting to their friends. Where are there friends? Are they at home? At school? Nope. Their friends that they are sharing a text with is likely next to them or down the next isle. Sadly the art of a good spoken conversation may be lost. The blame can not be placed only on the teens, adults are just as guilty. How often has it been said that it is "easier to email someone than call them"? For everything that technology affords us to do in the way of freely choosing how to communicate or accomplish our tasks, there is a growing sense of isolation. The computers have created a world where humans can "artificially" connect but in reality they are only connected the tools they use. Namely gadgets that "connect" the community to the internet 24/7. In many cases, the role of the library may be to be fill that gap and bring a "human" side to the computer age. It's a natural role for librarians to play. How often have libraries been the bridge that brings information and people together. Too many to count. There are many examples to site, but one very important one to begin with are the story time programs that have become a staple of library programs. In story times, librarians introduce reading not only as a means to learn but also to enjoy the written word. These programs also serve to help parents become proactive in helping their child learn. Parents who take their children to story times are most likely read to their children too. Can the digital age remove story time programs from libraries? Everything is possible with YouTube and Skype. However, that would be forgetting that the main ingredient of a good story time is human contact. The interaction between children and librarian can not be replaced by a digital world. One other glaring example is reference services that are provided by librarians. This is the one service that is often overlooked and seen as irrelevant to many patrons. Who needs a reference librarian when finding out the capital of Florida? Even before the internet, basic library skills taught students to look it up in an encyclopedia or atlas. With the advent of the information age, almost every home has access to basic information through Google or Wikipedia. When it comes to bigger research questions that require analytical skills to review information, the skills of a reference librarian is not only helpful but time savers. There have been numerous books where authors in their notes to readers will often give credit and praise to the librarian who helped them with research for their books. Again, the library puts a human touch on finding information in a fast past digital world. The constant challenge for librarians in the next few years is to preserve the human connection in this fast changing world. If we loose the human connection the process of learning, sharing and communication will at the very least slow down at he very worst halted. At the risk of sounding a bit "touchy feely", perhaps its time to promote "hugging" a librarian. If the bridge between informatton and people should collapse, then every community will suffer. This is precisely the reason why every community should have a library or at the very least access to one. This is how libraries will stay relevant, reliable and resourceful, it all starts with one human being helping another.
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