Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A little bothered, maybe.

I read Karen Schneider's post about the 21st century library over at Free Range Librarian. I wasn't sure what bothered me when I read this post at first. It was kind of like a little something nagging at me while I read it. I had read Mr. Codrescu's speech, and I do agree with his criticisms of ALA and the issue of Cuban libraries. I also happen to agree with a lot of other ideas he expresses about libraries. But that was not it. It was not quite the whole 21st century library message. I am certainly the first to agree that changes are coming and that we need to adapt. I even liked the idea of the 21st century library doing well the things that the library of the 20th century does well. Here is the actual quote:

But the 21st-century library offers services that the 20th-century library did well, too. I love Google, and I use it all day, but Google doesn't know how to read a picture book to a toddler or wipe the tears of a crying child, it doesn't know how to steer a teenager to a good homework topic, and Google can't provide a place where I can sit and read among other members of my community--that "third place" some have written about, the alternative to Codrescu's dystopic reference to the "mindless shopping mall."

And then I saw it. What bothered me was that I found myself reading another one of those "us vs. them" posts. There is the old people who aren't quite retiring fast enough and stand in the way. On the other, the wave of the future, "that might liberate us from our role as curators of dead-tree collections and move us towards the more dynamic, vital, and timeless role of cultural leaders." They are the ones who will take us to the Promised Land, even if not everyone has the same funds or resources to do it, but that is a whole different story. Maybe it's just me, but after reading the post that made a nice argument about what Google does not do well, like tell a child a story, somehow what came after seemed divisive. Why does it always have to boil down to "those folks" and "us who can't wait 'til they get out so we can do what we know is right"?

Are there less enlightened libraries out there? Yes, there are. Is there a lot of deadwood out there? I will certainly grant that. And yes, the so-called leaders of our profession have certainly missed their share of opportunities. Obviously, carpe diem was not their motto. But do we need to draw a line in the sand? Maybe that is what bothers me. Maybe it bothers me because I am not a Millenial. I am a Gen-X, so I remember a time before all the toys we now take for granted. And one of the inspirations I had to become a librarian was on her way to retirement after a long career. She may not have been an ubertech librarian, but she cared for the students and had an open mind. Yet to many out there, they would rush to celebrate that she is out of the way with glee. So maybe that bothers me.

Or maybe being told that the 21st century action plan for libraries is "change or die." I personally don't take very well to ultimatums, and I am willing to bet a lot of people don't either. And yet, this is what is often voiced by the advocates of change. I would prefer to use education and persuasion to bring forth change. Instead of adopting an attitude of waiting for the old to wither away, or just running them over like a steamroller, we should be working with them as we would work with anyone else. True, for change to work you have to embrace it. As an educator, I am the first to embrace the chaos when its time. But I also believe that libraries will survive, even if they do so in somewhat different forms. We'll still have books along with a myriad of services for our patrons. I just don't see the need to draw a line, for taking sides, for alienating a segment of the profession we all share because they may not share the vision. Then again, I am not an expert. I can barely run a blog, and while technically savvy, I am certainly not the incarnation of ubertech who programs in their sleep and takes servers apart with enough time to eat their corn flakes. I am only a librarian and a teacher who believes in the power of educating others. I am only someone who values the best of the past as I look to the future. Maybe, just maybe, that's why a little something bothered me on reading that post, and why it moved me to write and think about it when I certainly could have let it slip. Maybe it was just me.

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