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