Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Library World vs. The Real World: Stopping the Insanity

The library world is sometimes a strange world indeed. If someone were to ask what drives a person into the library profession the answer is usually summed up in one word: insanity. Why? This is a world where the professionals who love their jobs day in and day out are almost always justifying the existence of the library, the education level requirements of the profession and always the budget/salaries for the libraries and librarians. It seems that the world outside the library does not fully understand or care about libraries. Why is that? Advocates of libraries are very passionate about their belief that knowledge is power and that power should be accessed by all. Thus, this is where the insanity comes to play. Every day, every season, every year, libraries promote themselves as the free resource for every community. The library is the place where the community learns and grows together. The library is a valued part of our world. Yet, every day, every season, every year it's the same response. Yes, libraries are wonderful but we can get everything we need from our electronic devices in just a couple of clicks. After all these years, the internet still gets the upper hand and libraries are struggling to keep up. If as a profession, librarians are still struggling with the same questions, perhaps its time to look at what drives the idea that everything is at one's finger tips via the internet. While internet access has become easier to come into daily living wherever one goes, the library profession still laments over the digital divide debate. The same debate that began when the internet was exploding is still with us twenty years later. Again, see the insanity? It's creepier than a science fiction novel of a warped home world that is stuck in the same time loop. If libraries don't get away from the their "world", it may be doomsday for libraries. However, it doesn't have to be. The printing press revolutionized the way people gained access to information. The only two obstacles to overcome was reading and affordability. With the advent of mass printing, newspapers, pamphlets and other similar materials could be distributed widely. Here we have the market places of ideas coming to fruition. Everyone can participate in the debate and share their own insights. Notice what were the barriers in the beginning. The ability to read and to afford the books. What was the answer to providing access to all? Libraries. All be it, they were privatized but it answered the need of accessibility. Today, access to information can be provided through digital devices. The obstacles are the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Seekers of information need to know how to read which includes retrieval skills and have the ability to pay for digital resources. Thus we have the problems of the digital divide. So if libraries are still trying to justify their existence than would it be reasonable to assume that if in the past twenty years the obstacle of digital divide has not been solved yet then has it brought on the demise of one of the greatest institution of a free, civilized society? This may come a day too late or just at the nick of time but perhaps the only way to prove libraries viability in society is to solve the digital divide riddle. The old saying that knowledge is power has become more important in this generations than in any other before. The vehicle to obtaining knowledge has become expensive, much like the first books were too expensive for the common folks. Computers are a plenty in our nation, but not everyone has the means to use their equipment in a productive way. For example, a student may go to a good high school in the suburbs, own a laptop and have a few cool video games but does not have access to the internet at home. One might argue that the solution is to provide everything that is needed to gain access to information to every household. That's like saying to make sure everyone has a nice lawn, drop off a lawn mower and gardening tools to every home and magically everyone will have great landscape. No that's not the answer. Maybe the answer is this, if libraries do not begin to teach information retrieval survival skills, not only will the community around them suffer but the library will as well. The jobs of tomorrow will require technical knowledge of using a computer (for example, turning it on and off or clicking on various icons to navigate between programs). Not only that, the high end earners will be the ones who can effectively retrieve information and apply the information to their work environment. If libraries are following the tired old rule of leading the patron to how to get information but not how analyze it then that is a grave mistake. As educators of the community at large, it is the libraries responsibility to provide the best resources for their community to thrive in an ever changing world. It is with great disappointment that the digital divide has been discussed at lengths with no measurable progress. If libraries are going to help the world deal with change, then it's time to step out of the library world and into the real world. It is not longer acceptable to be passionate about libraries and the profession Its time for action. What can librarians do to reach out to patrons who are stuck in between the digital divide? One solution, go where the people congregate. If patrons are not viewing the library as the place to get answers, then it's time for librarians to wear walking shoes and lead patrons back to the library. Now more than ever we need a Pied Piper who lures all children, young an old, back to the bookshelves Even if it's a virtual bookshelf access remotely with an iPad. Stopping the insanity of looking at the same debates without seeking real life solutions is going to take many steps to find a workable solution. The institution of the library is worth every step to preserve it for this generations and many more to come.
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