Libraries Change But Still Matter

Not a day goes by when I hear:

  1. We can Google everything so why bother with a library.
  2. Aren’t libraries getting obsolete?
  3. I have no time to use library resources, so I Google.
  4. You guys must hate Google, uh?
  5. Any variation of all the above and more.

I get it. Google can spit out results to any question or query, it’s quick, it’s easy, and with a smartphone, you can do it anywhere. Sometimes the closest library may not have you want, and I heard tales of indifferent staff members or unwelcoming spaces. That sincerely breaks my heart then I reassemble the pieces and get angry. I confess to wanting to do the following to those individuals in my profession making clients feel small and stupid:

Not to worry, I will not literally punch them. Just think about it over and over again, in my mind.

This week marks my first orientation of the year. Part of my job involves going into classrooms to introduce library resources or deep dives in databases for those classes with an assignment. I joke about the library gods striking me down, but in reality, my last setting saw the librarian do the session, and I provided reference support. I handled registrations, feedback, some assistance, while the librarian did the teaching. At the college, I do it all and wish for a clone of me to do the reference support. Don’t let the last line fool you, I. Love. It. It’s like fate determined everything in my life, from my Bachelor of Ed to my Library Tech diploma, and all points in between, lead me to this moment in time.

In my nearly 8 years at my position, I accepted Google and Wikipedia will get consulted first, most people have not touched a database much less a book, and high school does not always prepare people for college or university. I said accepted not in the sense of throwing up my hands and saying ‘oh, well.’ Accepted means less stewing and more doing. Databases, thankfully, have adopted a Google-like approach to their usability. Sometimes my own search vocabulary runs empty, and intellect begins to connect the words to my search. It beats the Bridge Database at the U of M, my first exposure in 1994, learning to use descriptors to get education articles on the fly. (My era still had card catalogs!) This new era runs faster thanks to tech but needs a human mind to sift, refine, and comprehend.

Where libraries enter starts with printers and study spaces to establish relationships not just with staff, but the very people served at the desk. I have tucked chairs and heard students out about classes, resources, or feeling bone tired before midterms. They come to my colleagues or me later for help. Without initially going out from behind the desk, it’s four walls with books and printers. Whether one gets out from behind the desk or not, look up once in a while, sometimes a nod works just as well as saying hi. In order for libraries to matter we need humanity to go with the technology. No algorithm will match it.

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