Today this thought hit me because it was trash day. I stood in the kitchen making my oatmeal when the garbage truck rumbled by, collecting the trash from each house on the block. Right then I thought, libraries are like garbage collection.
Garbage collection, same as mail and package delivery, is a service that will always have a place in American society. Going door to door to remove, or deliver, things needs to occur to keep our neighborhoods and society flowing. Though many communications are now digital and mobile, the Internet, I’ll wager, has increased package delivery since wonderful websites with let you chose and pay for items online but the goods still need to be physically brought to you. These services won’t go away, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Same with jails, churches, and public parks/swimming pools. All are physical spaces that service a societal need that cannot be replaced with a virtual system or interface. Some people need to be locked up for wrong doings. Many enjoy attending a location at the same time each week for spiritual and religious, as well as social, reasons. Not everyone lives in a place with a yard or a pool, so communal ones not only offer those possibilities to those who don’t have them but also act as another communal spaces to come together.
Like all of these services and places, libraries join the list. As librarians, we aren’t really the “gatekeepers” now that the Internet and online information are used by the public. But the physical space and responsibility remains. Even if all works in the future are “born digital”, physical books will remain and last as they have for centuries. In fact, if people only buy ebooks on devices, perhaps the library will be more valued with all the academic and pre-ebook works. While I’m not trying to describe a museum or archives, it seems my description has taken me there, though that’s not what I mean to imply. To the contrary, libraries are and will continue to be a hub for knowledge and advancement, a learning commons for individual and group work.
It’s really the librarians that make all of that possible: structuring the space, providing help and instruction, connecting people with information. Whether or not you believe reference is dead, people want to connect with other people, and need to, for the services that began this post. Anyone can and does search Google but who is there to help when the search isn’t turning up what’s desired? Librarians. Who puts on programming at libraries that include video game tournaments and teenage book clubs reading vampire novels? Librarians. Geeks don’t need to take over the library because they are already there! Librarians are on all social media and use technology–some more than others, but it’s an ever increasing trend. Why? Because libraries need to stay on top of these things to provide the best service to society as it grows and changes. As it’s been said, librarians usually lead the way when it comes to technology and online services. Plus, now with the current Pearle Vision sexy librarian commercial, patron use is bound to up-tick; alright the ad may use “naughty” and stereotype us with collecting late fees, but hey, if it brings more users in…
Regardless, libraries remain a foundational necessity and stable service to society no matter what comes our way.