A couple of years ago I reiterated the age old question – Why do we still need libraries? – but mostly in passing. I noted that both Leonard Kniffel, long time Editor and Publisher of American Libraries, and former ALA President Roberta Stevens have acknowledged that the major question of the 21st Century that they are most often asked is; “Why do we still need libraries?”.
They both express exasperation from being asked that question repeatedly, and I suspect there is hardly a librarian anywhere that has NOT been asked that same question. What this tells me is that the profession has no single or universal answer, AND, that there is no adequate answer – yet.
Why is that? Why are we – the profession – unable to answer that fundamental question? Is it because there is no single answer that satisfies everyone? Is it because the answer is too big for non-librarians to understand? Is it because it is the wrong question that has no correct answer? Yes. Yes. and Absolutely!
When we look at what the library is evolving into today – the 21st Century Library – we can easily answer the “Why…?” question with a “We don’t.” answer. BECAUSE that tired old question is asking why we need the “classic” library, the 19th Century Library, the “collection of books” library, the librarian as “gate keeper” library. And the correct answer is WE DON’T!
We absolutely DO NOT need that tired old stereotype library with the bunned, shushing librarian guarding a dusty collection of “books.” Society has no use for those obsolete libraries and librarians of the past that were adequate for the society of the past.
So, what is the solution to answering people’s question? What can the librarian profession of the 21st Century reply to that question? Try this.
“You’re right. Our community does not need the “library” that you’re thinking of, because that library doesn’t have:
• high-speed Internet terminals,
• access to more materials than the NYC Public Library,
• downloadable eBooks, eAudio books, music and videos,
• 3D printers for people to make their visions something they can hold in their hands,
• a virtual branch where you can access our information 24/7,
• a mobile app for you to take “it” with you wherever you go,
• mobile technology that can give you a virtual tour of our collection,
• innovative learning programs for virtually every interest,
• dynamic space for stimulating conversation,
• creative environments to stimulate your imagination,
• librarians to help you learn how to use all these services,
• user centered materials and services, and
• more challenges to your learning and entertainment than Disney World.
OK, well maybe that last point was a little over the top, but you get the idea.
The next time you hear that tired old question “Why do we still need “libraries”?” think about your library and answer with a flourish and an excitement that says –