Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Who Needs Libraries?"

I just finished reading a short yet passionate article on the increased need for library services in the midst of budget cuts during difficult economic times. The article (don't let the length of the title scare you, it's only like a page)-- Let-Them-Eat-Cake Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets-- was written by Scott Turow, who is an author as well as president of The Authors Guild. I believe that every librarian should know and understand the points that Turow brings up here, since we are living in a world where so many people have come to believe that libraries are completely out-dated and out of place in a society as "developed" as our own.

If you are a librarian or library-student, I am sure that you have experienced the same reactions from people as I have when you get asked the question, "What are you majoring in?" or, "What do you do for a living?" I have found that about 80% of the time, when I say "Oh, I'm a librarian," they give me an awkward look and say something equally awkward like, "Oh... that's-- nice." (This is usually followed by the sound of crickets in the background.) I may as well have said that I'm a telephone switchboard-operator. Sometimes, a person will stop and say something along the lines of: "Huh. But don't you think libraries will eventually fade out? Along with books? I mean, we have the Internet..."

Honestly, I never really know how to respond to this because, first of all, where do I begin trying to point out that libraries are not exclusively synonymous with BOOKS? Secondly, how do you make someone understand the incredible importance of libraries in communities that are not entirely made up of nice, middle-class families with 2+ computers at home and unlimited access to the Internet all the time? Thirdly, how do I explain that the Web is hardly the greatest source for many kinds of information without making it sound condescending?

Well, studying this article might be a good start.

Turow points out the many great things that libraries provide for the communities they serve-- and how those services are now being threatened by so many disproportionate budget cuts from local and state governments. Here are a few things that Turow highlights:
  • Libraries are one of the greatest ways to "guarantee that we can maintain a well-informed citizenry."
  • Having the "mistaken belief that [libraries] are somehow anachronistic in an age when so many Americans have instant computer access to information through the Internet... is, frankly, a let-them-eat-cake attitude that threatens to destroy a network of public assets that remains critical to our society."
  • Two-thirds of libraries have reported that they are the only source for free access to computers, computer training, and the Internet in their communities.
  • For thousands of American kids, "libraries are the only safe place they can find to study, a haven from the dangers of the street..." (I know this all too well from working at over ten city branch libraries!)
  • "For the elderly, libraries are often important community centers that help them escape the loneliness of old age."
  • "Most important of all, perhaps, a library within a community stand as a testimonial to its values, and its belief in universal access to literature and knowledge."
Hopefully, we can work to peacefully tear down the elitist attitude that says libraries are no longer relevant in America-- because it is clearer than ever that they are not only relevant; they are integral to the very fabric of our society, and they are continuing to bring aide to millions of people in our troubled economy. As a public librarian, I fully support the message Turow presents here in this article, and  hope I will be able to share that message with others.

You might also want to check out SaveLibraries.org and ALA's ILoveLibraries.org to learn more about advocacy for your local libraries :)


  1. Love, love, love this post! When I tell people that I'm a librarian, 95% of the time they either laugh or ask me if libraries are dying out. You and the author brought up so many great points! This post is definitely getting bookmarked.

  2. Katie, so glad you liked it! It was great to find an article that expressed my feelings so perfectly :)

  3. I suppose I've become quite cynical about the trajectory of this country after studying the underlying reasons for what's going on economically, politically, and socially. This article is just another sign of how the middle and lower class suffer the effects of austerity cuts while the elite enjoy tax payer bailouts and other benefits of 'crony capitalism'.
    A few of the objectives of neoliberalism include cutting expenditures for social services (libraries are included here) and eliminating the concept of the 'public good' or 'community'. Interestingly, we have exported this economic policy abroad and you can see the end result of it in the Middle East. Read this article to see what I mean:

  4. Interesting points-- I don't know very much about politics and ideologies so thanks for getting me brushed up on neoliberalism! And interesting article, thanks for sharing.

  5. Sums my experiences with people up to a t! The best comments were usually regarding people's misconceptions about what a librarian actually does (i.e. they believe librarians do nothing but check out books and shelve them). Many were always astounded when they heard there was not only a degree involved with the job, but an advanced one too.

    Inner-city/at-risk youth youth and the elderly are two of the biggest demographics that will really suffer if politicians and other uninformed individuals have their way. Ugh, the state of our affairs sometimes.

  6. So well-put! And yes, I am always so aggravated when people seem shocked that my profession requires a Master's degree (um-- hello! It's a PROFESSION! Yes it involves higher learning!)

    Hopefully, somehow, the powers that be will eventually get it through their heads that libraries are still serving a vital role to many, many people in our communities. It's not likely, but I'll be optimistic.

  7. Great post. I never realized that people had such a disrespectful response to finding a librarian's occupation. People can be just rude. I think education is key to everyone and I think your recommendations are great.

  8. Thanks Alexis! I appreciate the support :)

  9. I was in the library last week and I overheard a woman telling the reference librarian about how she was told to look up psychology term in the Internet. "How do you do that?" she asked, quite puzzled. And the reference librarian proceeded to show her. Librarians are the ones people go to not only to get information - but the right kind of information.

  10. Seriously, that is so true! The other day I had an older gent stop in, saying that he wanted to file his taxes through the mail and his tax preparer DIDN'T KNOW where to send paper tax forms (I mean, really???) So the tax guy directed him to his local library and I helped him find the correct addresses so he could send in his federal and state tax forms!

    Honestly, I'm not sure if anyone else besides the library could've helped him because we're all so caught up with technology and forget that hey, some people prefer to do things the old fashioned paper-through-the-mail-way, or in other cases, they don't know any other way to do it!

    I was glad I could help him-- this is a very good point you bring up :)