Over the weekend, video producer Michael Rosenblum’s Huffington Post blog “What’s a Library?” generated quite a bit of discussion in my library-loving world. Mr. Rosenblum, who admits to never having gone inside the now-demolished library that inspired his post, questions the need for libraries in a world where he says everything can be found on the web, which he contends is “free.” More interesting to me than Mr. Rosenblum’s article (after all, haven’t each of us answered this question from every teenager we’ve encountered since we started library school), is the response of Ingrid Henny, The Magpie Librarian, who engaged Rosenblum with passion, research, and an invitation to further discussion. The Magpie, and the librarians who have joined her blog thread, are turning this into a teachable moment.
That teachable moment is beautiful. And, frankly, we need to seize more of these moments outside of the library. The librarians I know are intelligent, civic-minded, and hard working. These librarians respond to teachable moments regularly in their libraries with deft hands and minds. Then, quite often, these librarians see an article like Rosenblum’s and respond by posting a meme about how librarians are better than Google, accompanied by a pedantic comment about our relevance. In those instances, our intelligence and caring gets lost in peevishness and snark. We have to stop whining. We have to stop beginning to engage in debate and then backing off or disappearing from the scene when someone writes or says something that challenges us, that challenges our core beliefs. We should follow the Magpie’s example and engage not only with passion, but with research, anecdotes, and facts. I see evidence of meaningful debate between librarians daily; we should demonstrate similar engagement outside of our professional circle. Many library advocates do. I know this, and I applaud them. Many more could and should, though. The web is rife with librarians who continue to bleat about relevance, at our own expense.
I question why librarians continue to engage in the ridiculous debate about whether we can, should, or will be replaced by Google. Google is a tool. And here is where I get peevish and snarky: by perpetuating the “we can bring you back the correct answer and Google throws you into a sea of meaningless information” meme, we reinforce the perception that we are threatened by Google. I am not threatened by Google. If you, as a librarian or library student, do feel threatened, please seek inspiration immediately at a local library program, on YouTube by searching *library school*, or on any blog about the army of librarians who are keeping pace with their communities to provide equitable access to collections, as well as enriching experiences and services, on ever-shrinking budgets.
If I’m so smart, what do I think we should be debating? I’ll give you one to get you started–Equity of Access. I’m sure you can come up with many more on your own. These are conversations we library students and librarians have with each other. Let’s take these conversations out of the back room and share them with people like Mr. Rosenblum.
The Vagabond’s First Debate Topic: Equity of Access. The most startling problem brought to light in Rosenblum’s provocative article is the outrageous perception Rosenblum has of who the library is for and what the library offers access to. Equitable access doesn’t just mean providing internet access for the economically disadvantaged, though that is one wonderful facet of what our libraries provide. Equity of Access is defined by the American Library Association as follows:
“Equity of access means that all people have the information they need-regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers. It means they are able to obtain information in a variety of formats-electronic, as well as print. It also means they are free to exercise their right to know without fear of censorship or reprisal.”
The answer to Rosenblum’s question “What’s a Library?” is multilayered and as unique as the communities we serve. This question is being answered, and will continue to be answered and illustrated, by the many librarians and library members responding to his post. Let’s give our voice greater impact by using this opportunity to talk about the issues our libraries really face, and not by reactionary prose and search engine meme.