Teachable Moment

One simple story to illustrate why I think libraries are in trouble. One simple story that should scare the shit out of you, especially if you're in a public library.

Yesterday my wife caught the tail end of a local TV news broadcast she thought was her mother's, friend's, son's daughter dying in a car crash. She immediately went to the station's web site and found nothing. She searched Google, again found nothing. She tried the Buffalo News site, again nothing. She called her sister who looked in the paper, she saw nothing. He sister tried some internet searching, again nothing. Had enough yet? She then called her other sister, who tried something else, and may have even called someone else, again nothing. This went on and on for most of the day I guess.

Smart, very well educated people trying to find one simple small piece of information and failing. It turns out she lived and died in a small town near the Pennsylvania border. The local newspaper was indexed anywhere online, nor did the Buffalo papers carry the story. Why it was on the Buffalo TV news I have no idea.

So when I got home I heard the story (it was much longer and more interesting than what I wrote) about how she thought someone died, but she can't find anything about her. It wasn't in Google, so she thought she might've been dreaming when she saw the story on the news. Lucky for her, she married a librarian! My first thought was to call the library out in the town we thought she lived in, and ask them to look in the local paper. These are not stupid people. The reaction was the same from both my wife, the MBA, and her sister, another MBA:

"You can do that? Libraries can answer questions like that?"

They thought of Google (first), they thought of TV, they thought of newspapers, and they even thought of other people. It never occurred to them to ask a librarian. And one of them is married to a librarian.


First, sorry to hear about the loss. Second, while yes its true we can answer some questions like that, immediate news is faster and more accessible on the web because tv news and newspaper post stories on the web as they happen. If an accident happens up the street I don't know anymore then anyone else until its either on the web or the newspaper comes out. More then likely it will be on the web first. I think the teachable moment here is that we are not there for immediate gratification on everything.

I posted something somewhere in the past month about a woman who wanted to know if she should pay at the desk for the questions she'd asked me. She had no idea that I got paid to sit at that desk and answer questions such as she'd asked me all day. What she *thought I did, I'm not sure.

You should have a card, and tell her that she pays when it's time to vote on library bonds and stuff.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

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