Sometimes, its good for some outside of the library science world to write about libraries because they can offer fresh perspectives. However, this is not one of those times. As a newly graduated librarian, I have to sound off on Seth Godin’s most recent post about the Future of Libraries.
I would just like to say that I am a fan of Seth Godin’s work and appreciate his expertise in his field but I think he has missed the point again. I didn’t completely disagree with him. He makes a very keen observation that:
The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.
Not sure if we are Sherpas, but we definitely do act as teachers, guides, and another word Godin uses “raconteur of information”. However, a librarian needs materials to fill this role for library users. While a library is not just a warehouse of books, it does still need books. And that also includes ebooks. Libraries do need to “lobby for clever ebook lending solutions” because libraries need to be able to provide digital content. Yes. Ebook and eReader prices are coming down but many people still cannot afford to buy all of their books. (I include myself in that category.)
Another point that caused me great concern is his insinuation that all amateur research can stop at Wikipedia and other free online sources. This is ridiculous. Students must use verifiable sources when doing research and the library helps them to find that information, whether it be using an online subscription database or consulting current print material. (As a side note, teachers do not allow students to cite Wikipedia in most instances.) While I find Wikipedia is a useful tool in some cases, it is not a replacement for library resources.
Godin does makes some good points about the future of libraries. He states:
The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.
In my mind, this is the future of the library. I feel like it has the opportunity to be that “third place” in individual’s lives. It can be a place where they gather to collaborate on projects or meet up for book discussions. Some can argue that Starbucks and bookstores fill this role but I disagree. If a library has the right atmosphere, it can serve as a third place and be staffed with helpful, knowledgeable librarians.
I really do wish that Mr. Godin would put more thought when he chooses to write about libraries. He really should actually visit some and talk to some actual librarians. LibrarianbyDay made some excellent points in her post on this subject as well.