I work in libraries and I love my job! Mostly. I feel on the defensive — a lot — because I’m worried faculty don’t respect the work and that administrators view my job as worthless. I love the library and I love the overarching mission but I sometimes struggle with using my words to defend it. But Zadie Smith doesn’t:
And the thing that is most boring about defending libraries is the imputation that an argument in defense of libraries is necessarily a social-liberal argument. It’s only recently that I had any idea that how a person felt about libraries—not schools or hospitals, libraries—could even represent an ideological split.
I sat back in my chair after reading this, in the same way some kind of cheesy movie character would, arms crossed behind my head. She gets better:
At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell.
That’s a stunning way to put it. I’m a certain kind of person on the internet (a straight, white, young…ish, male with privilege coming out of his ass), so it’s sort of en vogue for me to rail against technology sometimes. But I do love what technology can do for me. I do love imagining that everyone has access to digital books for minimal cost, via Amazon, or whoever, and to billions of websites via Google, or whoever, and what’s a library for then, if not as a place for universal access to information? I worry about what a library becomes if that scenario comes true, but perhaps I shouldn’t.
When I worry about libraries, I worry in the abstract. But in the realest sense, my library serves a need for my students. Some need help, some need an enormous amount of help, and many don’t — but they come in anyway, maybe saying hello as they pass my desk, or asking for a tissue in newly-learned English, or saying nothing at all. To those, I’m merely decoration, some guy at a desk in a place they’ve come to rely on in some capacity. My library is different from your library, and that’s sort of a beautiful thing:
All libraries have a different character and setting. Some are primarily for children or primarily for students, or the general public, primarily full of books or microfilms or digitized material or with a café in the basement or a market out front. Libraries are not failing “because they are libraries.” Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.
Please read the article. It’s rather wonderful.
(via Christine Friar)