Will We Ever Get Passed This?

In honor of the fact that I have been feeling whiny of late, I really would like to take a minute to wonder about (and possibly rant a little about) why we still feel the need to debate the future of books – and of libraries. Steven Cohen from Library Stuff pointed me to an article by Zach Sims – titled Books? What Books? The article itself is fairly interesting – and the author makes some good points. He writes:

Is America, as a society, finished reading books? The format itself is more alive than ever. The printed word, however, may very well be on its way out. Newspapers and magazines are finding it increasingly important to build a web presence. Titans of “Old Media,” such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., are building web presences. Books, too, are finding more of a home on the Internet. Sony’s helping to digitize books and reading materials with their innovative Sony Reader. Google and Amazon have showed off Google Books and “Search Inside the Book,” two services that make it ever easier for users to both read, and analyze books.

Sims makes a great point that the internet has helped bring books closer to people in several ways. I even agree that the web is shifting our need for print materials. Many things were published in print because that was the best medium at the time. However, shorter, “newsy” items and opinion pieces (like this one in question) are perfect for the web. So really, the web is a new medium – and we are still figuring out what fits best where. I’m good with that.

Then Sims moves on to discuss LibraryThing – as a service that makes reading books easier. I’m not so sure how it makes reading them easier. I would say that it makes the discovery process easier and possibly even more fun – and that it makes sharing opinions and information easier. But is it true that LibraryThing and other “. . . new services also seek to replace librarians”? He seems to base this assumption on his doubt that librarians keep track of the reading likes and dislikes of their patrons. Doubt this no more Mr. Sims. Librarians don’t really keep mental tallies of how people react to the books they borrow and read. I seriously doubt that most people would want them to do this either. I would hope not. But really, is this what people think librarians should be doing? And is this really why so many people seem to believe that libraries are obsolete?

Maybe because it is because I am in school, and we seem to discuss these types of questions in every class. Maybe it is because I’ve been grouchy. Maybe it is because these questions come up so often that I find myself getting defensive. However, is anybody else tired of these questions – of these debates? Everytime I hear someone ask about the death of books, the obsolescence of libraries, the supremacy of the internet and the World Wide Web, etc., I really want to scream. I get extremely truculent when we have to discuss these subjects in my MLS program. I want to shout “IF I THOUGHT LIBRARIES WERE NO LONGER RELEVANT, I WOULDN’T BE IN LIBRARY SCHOOL.” Can we move beyond these things to have debates about issues that will be more important for practicing librarianship?

Digitization is certainly changing our relationships to books, to all printed material. It is certainly changing the role of libraries and the work of librarians. But, libraries and librarians are adapting – and even thriving. Let’s get over this already.

I’m going to go read a book or two.

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4 Responses to Will We Ever Get Passed This?

  1. Mark says:

    Amen!

    I guess I could make a snarky comment about how perhaps this topic is of just enough depth for our schoolmates to be able to discuss while the real problems take a little more thought and effort … but I’ll refrain.

    Seriously, though, I wish we could move on to the real issues at hand.

  2. Agreed. It seems like so many people spend so much time screaming “we’re still relevant!” that they forget to do anything that actually makes us relevant.

    PS, – I like the word “truculent.” I’m gonna have to use that….

  3. Zach Sims says:

    Thanks for your feedback on my article. Some of the points I made deserve clarification in light of the comments you’ve made, and I think I was misunderstood in some ways. LibraryThing, as a service, seems only meant to replace part of a librarian’s job. Suggestions are more highly targeted when they come from a search engine like LibraryThing, as opposed to those from a librarian who is recommending a book based not on your particular reading tastes, but upon the quality of the book itself. Personally, I think librarians are priceless to our current system and will remain that way for generations. Librarians almost serve as a gateway to literacy. For new readers, they can recommend just the right books. For accomplished and literate readers, they can recommend classics, or the newest book that has caught their eye. You’re right, LibraryThing cannot do that. What it can do, however, is harness the power of your prior reading and recommend books to you based on that. It’s two completely different sets of suggestions, and LibraryThing doesn’t quite beat out the personal interaction a librarian provides.

    Furthermore, librarians are absolutely priceless in the research process. As a student myself, I’ve noticed that librarians are often the first place to begin whilst writing a research paper. Once I’ve garnered book suggestions from a librarian, I often turn to LibraryThing to suggest similar books that may help with my research. Also, Google Book Search enables me to do targeted research, getting information only on the relevant sections of a book (to my research).

    Hopefully it’s become clear that in no way do I see librarians becoming less relevant in the future. While technology has begun to change the way their jobs are structured, there will always be a place for someone so devoted to books that they’ve chosen to spend the rest of their life working with them. Once again, thanks for your comment, and best of luck to you in library school.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Zach, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. Oddly enough (given my post), I really enjoyed your original article – you took an interesting stance on the future of reading. It was really the one line about LibraryThing and librarians that touched a bit of a nerve – although I didn’t really think that you were advocating the death of librarianship.

    I appreciate your kind words of support about my library education!!!

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