The Library War.

Is it me, or has the library war already started? Because I keep reading about how the old library is dead and the new library needs building. That print has been mortally wounded and now those inbred and bastard children fight to be the next ruler. We have our own Game of Thrones (this week on HBO, which I have neither read nor seen, so whatever connection I make, is purely accidental) in the fantasy library world of Bibliotania (yeah, you come up with a better name):

  • We have the Knowledge Facilitators, once loyal to the throne but now impatient for political change so long as the office remains in their control.
  • We have the Transliterates, plotting with foreign armies or mercenaries, anyone who can bring swift wealth and power.
  • We have the Digital Natives, spoiled, selfish, corrupt, unable to see beyond their immediate desires, but who command a great army.

B

ut each for now, all opposed to the rule of Paper. Paper Rule, Papal Rule: there could be some historic parallel in this tale. All these voices in Libraryland say that The Print is Dead. See? That sounds like "the Prince is dead." You could really run with this to write a terrible story if you wanted.

So they all shout. Somehow, I think, that whoever shouts about the death of print the loudest, that one will somehow gain the upper hand in the fight.

"Technology is the answer!" "Transliteracy!" "Knowledge Facilitation through communication with local communities is the solution! (That one's not so catchy.)

So, although the library is actually doing pretty well and not at all at death's door, these groups think it's wise to declare the death. Yes, print may not ever recover fully; the wound is too deep. But to attack now can only weaken the library more. Because the library and print are inseparable in the eyes of the people. So that's the war, as it is now. The library suffers. Print is dead. And at least three factions march upon the territory to claim victory.

But is this wise? There are external forces who wish to see the library dead. The whole ebook seller market and publishers of bestsellers would love to see the library disappear. Even though the library accounts for millions of dollars in sales, if the public had to buy individual copies for themselves, those sales would increase 2, 4, even 10 times.

You would think that the best position would be for these groups to run to the aid of the library and tell the public that Technology, Transliteracy, and Knowledge Facilitation have always been part of the library and that the library is strong and healthy. But they don't. So the war, it is here. At our door step. I think. Unless these groups can find a way toward common ground, I don't know what will happen.

Because the enemies of the library lie in wait, also, to attack. Elected idiots keep stripping the funding and telling the public that they are saving them money. But the library needs money to survive. And people need libraries. They really do. But the people become blinded and only see the few dollars these officials can actually save them, instead of recognizing that all their few dollars combined keep the libraries strong and give the people back untold riches in information access, entertainment and knowledge.

Okay, fine, I've gotten a little prosy with my writing. And since you all expect a little violence and sex with your stories these days, I'll tell you this: The war raged. Blood splattered on the fields of battle where limbs and split torsos lay. The young women bore their heaving breasts in passionate embrace with the victors. And all heard great sighs and moans of pleasure as each body arrived at the summit and all was released.

There, you feel better now?

But we need to stop this war before it goes too far. The library is what matters. The library needs us all to survive. And even in the 21st Century, whether you believe the library is a place or whether you think the library is a service, the library is still a great idea. Let's stand together and fight for it.

Am I overreacting? Who cares; it's only me, what do I know.

Comments

The crisis in librarianship, redux

External forces and dark plots, subversives and quislings. Sounds vaguely like the Red Scare. Libraries, and librarians need not be victims, and a lot of what is written lately sounds like victimization. Yes, there are crucial questions to be addressed about how we as librarians will respond to the latest technological innovations, which are indeed challenging. At our core we are community assets, so what do our communities need that we can provide? Public forums, providing the underserved with access to information and technology, supporting literacy collaboratively with public education, not assuming that the shrinking middle class will choose to purchase books either as hard copies or digital entities. Advocating for the services we provide by appearing before those who dispense the money and constantly asking our publics, to paraphase Ed Koch "How we doin'?" Proactivity in other words.

Cutesy

Hopefully this was just a mild rant in a prosy format to appeal to the casual readers. If not, it is as detrimental to the existence of the library as your supposed "attackers".

Continued existence of the library is all too real to be fictionalized, fantasized and essentially marginalized by a parody of HBO and Showtime special series. It is a very serious situation that library directors, board trustees, city managers, county councilmembers and legislators should be taking VERY seriously, as should the whole profession, and professional associations.

I don't know if you're overreacting - or just acting.

The Library

"There are external forces who wish to see the library dead. The whole ebook seller market and publishers of bestsellers would love to see the library disappear. Even though the library accounts for millions of dollars in sales, if the public had to buy individual copies for themselves, those sales would increase 2, 4, even 10 times."

Is this really true? Why do authors then donate copies of their books to the library? I think the library is a great PR source for print and e- books. Not everyone who borrows books from the library would purchase titles if the library did not exist. There are those without the means to do so, or who would not make it a financial priority. The library also provides the opportunity to "test drive" a book before checking it out or buying it.

I think the library as we've known it is evolving. But I don't think public libraries will disappear. Even with eBooks and virtual reference, daily visits to libraries are up.

yes, but...

"Not everyone who borrows books from the library would purchase titles if the library did not exist. There are those without the means to do so, or who would not make it a financial priority."

Not all library borrowers are in one of those two groups. There are those who currently utilize the library who do have the financial wherewithal to support their reading habit by purchasing books outright (I am not one of them); it is this group that would contribute to increased book sales.

That said, I am extremely skeptical of claims that book sales will grow by such large amounts in the absence of libraries. Not every book currently purchased by libraries will necessarily find a large group of buyers if libraries are removed from the picture (and I agree, I don't think libraries will ever be fully removed from existence).

yes. true.

as I wrote it, it's true. if there were no libraries, then there would be no library for the author to donate her books. and if there were no libraries to lend books, then there would be more individual book sales.

if there were no libraries, book sales would increase. I wasn't trying to argue a point.

...however...

I agree that there might be more book sales to those who possess the wherewithal to purchase individual books. However, it seems to me that those "additional" sales would be considerably less than the amount of sales to libraries lost by the "death of the library." But that topic seems irrelevant to me. Libraries will not die if they continue to evolve. Publishers are not going to cut off their noses to spite their faces. It's all about maximizing sales. They only care about who does the purchasing in the context of net income.

Historical perspective: The Internet did not kill the library as many predicted it would. Instead, the library adopted this threatening new technology as its own and economically provided Internet access to a large portion of the population - many of whom rely on the library for that service. Public PCs and Internet access are now a vital part of the services we offer and an important component in helping us to accomplish our mission. And we need to remember our mission - why we're here. The public library movement in the U.S. was predicated on equal access to information for all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. That's the bottom line.

Until that glorious day when every citizen has full and unfettered access to and the means to use all e-books and digital resources and can do so without libraries, that mission remains vital to our society...and it is the obligation of society to ensure that equal access to desired formats is maintained. A well-educated and informed populace strengthens society and improves the quality of life and governance for ALL members of society.

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