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.