As some of you may know, I am currently getting my Master’s in Library and Information Science, after the completion of which I will be a librarian. And as many of you may have seen if you follow my Instagram, I recently went on a rant about our society’s current perception of libraries and librarianship.
Throughout the last year, I’ve read a lot of literature that states that libraries are no longer needed in our digital age, and that the advent of Google has made both libraries and librarians an obsolete part of our cultural infrastructure.
I just want to say that that is utter crap.
I could go on for days about why such statements are untrue and misguided, and perhaps in the future I may make more posts about this topic. But for today, I want to keep it simple with a couple reasons why libraries and librarians are needed now more than ever.
- Digital Information Explosion: The Internet and Google definitely revolutionized the information world. It changed not only how we seek information, but also how we perceive it. The Internet opened the doors for the world to become information-creators, and as a consequence, the amount of digital information available on the Internet grows exponentially every day. The number of documents on the web is unfathomable; and to top it off, most of the information found on the web cannot be trusted (which I will talk more about in #2). For this reason, it is all the more important that we have librarians – professionals trained in searching techniques, indexing, metadata, and information retrieval – to help us find the information that we need. Navigating the overwhelming sea of online information can be intimidating; and therefore, people often just select the first option presented by Google, rather than taking the time to look at all their options for the best one. Librarians, with their knowledge of online content, database storage and organizational methods, and various searching methods (i.e., faceting searching, tagging, controlled vocabularies, folksonomies, etc.), know how to successfully and efficiently navigate the digital sea.
- Information Literacy Instruction & “Fake News”: So, we discussed already how the concept of “information-creators” online made most information found there untrustworthy. In fact, it’s often false, untruthful, and purposely misleading. I hate using the term “Fake News” because it’s so politically loaded nowadays (even though it wasn’t always), and I do not mean it in a political manner at all. Nonetheless, I have yet to find a term that better describes this phenomenon – the creation of false information with the intention to mislead or manipulate one’s thoughts. You could call a lot of things fake news, but the point is that we live now in a time where people cannot even trust the major news sources to tell them a simple truth – everything is coated in bias or alternate, hidden intention meant to influence your opinions. Flashy, dramatic headlines draw us in to click on the article, but what’s inside is often unsubstantiated, and I often liken it to propaganda – it’s sending us a message, but when we’re reading it we don’t very much care about the opposing side. Librarians play a really important role in this “Post-Truth” era – that of an educator of information literacy (the ability and skills to find, select, evaluate, and apply information correctly and ethically). Learning how to be information literate in today’s society, so that you do not fall victim to false information, is crucial. Information literacy instruction, which has long been a part of the librarian’s job, is the answer here; it is the beacon of truth in the sea of misinformation.
- Access to scholarly content through subscription databases: Google has stated that it is their mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Sound’s nice, right? All the world’s information in one conveniently accessible and free database.
But would you believe me if I told you that Google only indexes 4% of the world’s information? That’s right, 4%. There’s a whole 98% out there in the dark web (no, the dark web is not the black market or illegal. It’s simply called the dark web because it’s not findable). There is also a whole world of scholarly content (if you’re a student, this point is especially important) that Google cannot provide you; and even if they lead you to a scholarly source, chances are you’re going to have to pay for it. Whether purchasing a single article or buying access to an academic journal, academic content is expensive.
This is where your library comes in to save the day. Libraries have limited budgets; historically they always have. But in today’s digital society, libraries spend a significant portion of their collections acquisitions budgets on expensive database subscriptions – subscriptions you’re not going to be able to afford on your own, but you sure as hell want and need. In this way, libraries open the world of digital information up even further to patrons by increasing and improving access.
- The Digital Divide: Internet connections are expensive. Smartphones are expensive. Laptops are expensive. Yet despite the high costs, these things are necessary in society today. Internet access – both broadband connection and the equipment necessary to use it – are mandatory for kids’ schoolwork, job searches and applications, and sometimes even for making appointments, among many other things. There is no way around needing the Internet today; we are dependent upon it for everything.
However, there is a significant portion of Americans who do not have access to the Internet or ownership of Smartphones or Laptops; there are many reasons for this, chief among them the cost. In addition, many regions of the nation do not have broadband access; the broadband companies (such as Verizon and Comcast) have not laid the wires in those area due to them having low populations. How can the children in these communities complete their schoolwork online if they do not have the means? How can people from impoverished communities raise themselves up if they cannot access job databases and applications? In these types of places, the public library is often the only place where people can access the Internet. In this case, the public library is helping Americans achieve social mobility, reduce school failure and dropout rates, and reduce poverty.
As you can probably see, the advent of the Internet and the prominence of Google have not killed librarianship. If anything, they have revived it, given it more meaning, and created numerous new digital, professional pathways for emerging librarians as Metadata Specialists, Digital Archivists, Digital Preservationists, Systems Librarians, Media Specialists, and above all, educators and advocators for the free and unrestricted use of information.
Perhaps I am speaking to the wrong audience; as a book blog, I’m sure most of you visiting here are loyal library patrons like myself who have no need of being told that libraries are important and should be defended. However, there needs to be a paradigm shift in society; if people keep seeing libraries as defunct and obsolete remnants of a former, pre-digital time, then library funding will continue to diminish, library services will be cut, people will stop pursuing work in the area, and the vitality of the library as we know it could be threatened.
So, continue to be patrons to your public library – check out books and DVDs, attend events, take the classes offered, donate – if people are using the services, librarians will be able to continue successfully acquiring funds. Vote for local politicians who support the library; if they haven’t stated a stance, ASK THEM! And if you encounter a naysayer against the library, please tell them all the good things your library does for the community and point them here! Libraries are here to stay.