Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Huffington Post on Library Woes

Art Brodsky's article is titled "Our Public Library Lifeline Is Fraying. We'll Be Sorry When it Snaps" and I couldn't agree more. And yes, I'm very biased towards this as I have an eminent stake in the future of libraries.

Five years ago I was at a crossroads. I had left publishing, a career I loved, to work as a computer programmer. This decision was purely financial. In 2000, my wife as a high school teacher made almost double what I made as an editor. We would never have a home, or a family, or savings, or all sorts of things if I continued working in publishing. Needless to say, but I made good money as a programmer.

But I hated it.

Many people like programming. There are many who even have a passion for it. I'm not one of them. I needed to get out. This put me at my crossroad.

Moving to a different programming job wouldn't be sufficient. It wasn't the work, it was the career. It and I did not match. Going back to publishing was an option, but there was the financial concern. So, I needed to find a career where I could have passion AND make a decent wage. I chose librarianship.

I love books. I love reading. Yes, a library is more than that, but I don't know if you can dislike books and make it as a librarian. More than liking books, I had worked on books. I knew that side of the business which is something many (if not most) librarians don't have. I also had a background in programming, which in these days, is a great benefit to have as a librarian as more and more things become electronic/digital/online/etc. these days. Plus, the pay was pretty good.

Don't laugh. My first job as a full-time librarian earned almost double what my last job as an editor did. Whether that says more for the dire state of publishing salaries or the implied lucrativeness of being a librarian, I don't know. Regardless, once the decision was made, it was time to go back to school, earn my Master's in Library Science (no matter what my alma mater thinks about the word 'library'), and move onto a new career.

I didn't come to libraries by accident. I didn't come to libraries because I had previous experience working in one (in fact, that lack of experience may be a benefit for me in the long run). I didn't come to libraries because I went to library school straight out of college. I chose to be a librarian. It's who I am. No matter what accolades I may earn (that's not me in the photo), I will always think of myself as a librarian first, everything else second.

That's why I think this article is great. Of course, being on the Huffington Post means that only a certain group of people will see it. And it's also written because this is National Library Week. On any other week I doubt that Mr. Brodsky--no matter his love and devotion to libraries--would write this. Even if he did, would Huffington Post run it on a different week? Probably not.

One of the big reasons is the prevailing mentality that everything is online. Even pro-library people (and librarians) have this opinion that everything is online. Brodsky writes (emphasis mine):
But it would be a mistake to say that the Internet replaces libraries. It doesn't. It's an adjunct. More than one budget officer has said that people don't need libraries because they can go online. First, many people can't go online due to their economic circumstances. Second, librarians help to guide research. A simple online search will not always achieve desired results, as anyone who does this well knows. And libraries still have those quaint old things called books, many of which aren't online. The printed medium still has a lot of attraction for many, from the youngest readers whose parents check out armloads of picture books, to the serious readers and researchers who realize there is more to find than what's online.
Just as important, just because you can go online and use Google, doesn't mean you can actually write a good search query, or interpret your search results with any alacrity. That's where we come in. Sure, I still get people calling for phone numbers and hours of businesses, but more often the reference questions are more complicated and require someone with some searching skill and tenacity to find the answer.

I'll close the same way the article does (again, emphasis mine):
No less an authority than Keith Richards put it best in his forthcoming autobiography: "When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser."