Friday, January 14, 2011

Libraries Revisited

I was reading this post by Matthew Yglesias, where he makes the case that libraries are something of an anachronism, which reminded me of a post in defense of the modern library by PeP's very own founding blogger- Piedpiper. Pied's defense of libraries was written not quite five years ago. I would be interested to see if he believes if his defense of libraries has weathered this brief test of time. Pied laid out three arguments in favor of the library in modern times:

Well Pied's first argument in favor of the library is confusing so I will cite the whole bit (notice something here? Yes my readers, a hyperlink, that is like a citation that is even better than a citation. You click on it and it takes you to the source):
"First, the Web is great at providing information. But that information is neither here nor there without the ability to cite your source (!), prove its authenticity, or delve deeper into the subject. The problem with the Web is that since there is so much information, we can't delineate (in many circumstances) fact from fiction."
I think there seem to be two related thoughts here: 1a. appears to be the difficulty of citations (which in the middle aughts actually was a greater concern as citing conventions for online sources where less common than they are today and certainly less accepted). 1b seems to be a concern with the ability to discern whether the source is an authority or not. Apparently Pied gained much more faith in a source if it was on the printed page than pixels on a screen. I guess I don't understand how this is really an issue and I don't think I would have thought it was at the time either. I would say his first concern, that of citations has cured itself. His second concern, that of authenticity was misplaced.

Pied's second argument in favor of libraries centered around the concern with the cost of connectivity. The argument goes that the web is a poor substitute for a library because you need connectivity and a computer a router and so on in order to use the web. Pied argued that one of the areas where a library demonstrated its relevance was by providing the poor with access to the web. I think this still holds up, though, I would guess that at this point the barriers to web access as far as cost goes has substantially diminished in the last five years thus attenuating the libararies usefulness in this function.

Pied's third argument is I believe the most potent, which is that the Library functions as a community center. I guess, here too I wonder how valid this is? A library may be a place where people can have meetings but typically there are in fact things called community centers for that. Libraries typically are characterized by stern old ladies shushing you which really inhibits that whole interaction bit that is the predicate to functioning as a community center. Then again, I don't read books, I burn books, so maybe I am not a good arbiter of this discussion. Pied, what says you?

I think the basic function of a library, sharing books, is still a good one, even as e-readers proliferate but not as necessary as it once was. To me that augurs for the scaling back of public libraries but not outright elimination of them.

1 comment:

Carla said...

As a librarian I invite you to step in to a library whether it be the physical space or the online environment. Libraries are useful and necessary places for all the reasons Pied expressed earlier and for so many more reasons. Libraries have something for everyone.

Yes, librarians can have folks navigate their way through the web to help determine if information on a site is authoritative and accurate but they can also help identify the source of the information and determine the position or stance the source is coming from.

Beyond that, libraries have books, they have ebooks and audio material (including eaudio downloads), they have magazines, journals, and newspapers/news sources in print and electronic versions. The subscriptions to all of those are very expensive but well worth it.

Libraries have community spaces for business meetings, potlucks and book clubs. A children's storytime hour can captivate a child's imagination and get them hooked on books for a lifetime. Libraries are places where artists can exhibit their work. They provide instruction on how to use a mouse, getting started with email, understanding the web, ESL, photoshop and other software, how to write a resume and look for a job, homework help and tutoring for kids and adults in English, math, GED, citizenship test prep, tax prep... I could go on and on. Libraries level the playing field for their users. The rich and poor alike have the exact same access to information and services. Where else does an organization or institution offer equal access to everything?

Libraries are vital places that contribute to the success of their communities. There a lot of fun so check one out sometime.