Why Libraries?

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do is searching Flickr for CC photographs related to my writing. (( Mason, Randi. “TerryMoore’s Librarian Sketch.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 15 May 2009 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/lucy_anne/728900655/>. ))
Anyone who knows a good librarian, knows about militancy. (( Puckett, Jason (JassModeus). “Librarian Tattoo.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 1 Aug 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jazzmodeus/2723560261/>. ))
I understand the need for these rules, but this shouldn’t be the first or last thing that patrons see when using a library. (( Dombrowski, Quinn. “Librarian Rules.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 26 Mar 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/2363131151/>. ))
Librarians being librarians.  I wish I knew who that blue guy was. (( Metitieri, Fabio. “Second Life, Librarians Meeting.” Flickr. 15 Aug 2008. 15 May 2009 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/yukali/2764611639/>. ))
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In searching for library images on Flickr, I discovered that some people have some pretty interesting fantacies about librarians. 😉

A few days ago, that Blue Skunk dude, Doug Johnson, published a blog post resulting from a conversation he was involved in with the fellow leadership of his school district.  The question at hand was, “How can middle school and high school library programs and facilities be improved to support student learning and achieve the ISB Vision for Learning?”  However, through the course of the conversation, the question morphed into, “Does a school need a library when information can be accessed from the classroom using Internet connected laptops?”

Well I can think of no one, NO ONE, whom I would rather be sitting in the presence of such a question.  If this statment puzzles or intrigues you then just google [“Doug Johnson” librar].  Johnson also offered up a list of published articles he has written about the essential need for libraries today.  Go to his blog post (The Essential Question?) to see this list — and bookmark the articles.

Part of his blog entry was a request for answers.

The new question is uncomfortable, messy, and incredibly important and not restricted by any means to one particular school. It is one to which all library people need a clear and compelling answer.

Then he closed with,

Do you have a good response? What part does a facility play in a ubiquitous information environment? How does the librarian’s role change? How do we assess our impact if physical visits become less frequent?

This blog post — which you are reading now — comes under the category of, “I spent so much time and energy writing that comment that I have to put it someplace else as well.”  So here’s how I answered Doug’s question. (Italicized text was added for this article)

Doug,

I think that this is one of the most interesting questions in education today, “Why do we need libraries (or librarians) when virtually all of the information we need on a daily basis is only a mouse-click away?”

I ask the question a lot, and the answers often seem to fall into two categories.  The first is about books and their special place in our culture.  Why?  The answers frequently seem to be personal (I like the feel and smell).  The second reason is about librarians.  We need librarians to teach students how to be critical users of information — and much more.

Frankly, I do not believe that either reason will fly in the face of budget cuts and an increasingly information-ubiquitous landscape.

That said, I also do not believe that there has ever been a more exciting time to be a librarian.  Reinvention thrills me.

The traditional vision of the library portrays a place, where you go to consume content, to find information, read information, and sometimes to check it out.  Certainly many, if not most, libraries have extended beyond this limited function.  Yet the vision continues to be the same.

As you know, I talk about literacy a lot, and try to tie it to the old and recognized structure of the 3Rs.  I think it’s a good place to start, because it is about accessing, working, and expressing information (reading, arithmetic, & writing).  It seems that if the library could come to be seen as a place for all three…

  • Find, access, understand, critically evaluate the appropriate information for your goal;
  • Add value to the information by utilizing tools of analysis, translation, manipulation, and visualization of information;
  • Compelling express ideas through the appropriate combinations of text, sound, images, video, animation; and
  • Accomplish these things socially, collaboratively, and joyously.

…if the library might come to be seen more as a workshop where information isn’t so much a product, as it is a raw material (a “Kinkos for kids,” if you will), then it may remain not only viable, but an essential institution.

That’s my 2¢ Worth.

Again, go read Dougs post to see many other responses.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.