Whither libraries?

There has been quite a bit of press lately on the future of the library.  Washington University has closed its biology and math library.  CNN ponders the future of the library and the librarian.

As many of you know, I’m a librarian in a virtual academic library.  I have access to the 15th largest research library in North America, however, should someone want to get their hands on a book  – and many do.  The faculty and the doctoral students, in particular, are fond of books.  The undergraduates, not so much.

You might think that my job is less intense, given that I have a whopping 42 books in my collection.  However, I would posit that the librarian’s job is more complex and more important than ever.  And believe me, I’m plenty busy.

When I was in school, we would start our research in the school’s library.  There we found rows and rows of books, all chosen by a librarian specifically for the library’s collection.  While you needed to find the particular stuff you needed for your paper, you knew that everything in the library was good stuff.

Now students are turned loose on the internet, where any idiot with a modicum of tech-savvy can throw up a web page and a few choice opinions, dressed as facts.  Our students need to be able to discern a good resource from a bad resource, in an atmosphere where it’s not all that easy to tell one from the other.

That’s where we librarians come in.  It’s now our job to help students (or patrons) understand how to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff.  It’s also our job to help them navigate the morass that is the library database.  Let’s face it – they’re not at all user-friendly or intuitive.

Yes, the library is changing.  The world is changing.  (I just had a conversation with a television reporter about how the newspaper business is changing – and so is their world.)  Don’t write the library off just yet, however.  It may look a bit different, but we’re here to stay.

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Filed under Academia, Libraries and Librarianship

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