Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Library Grief Cycle.

In response to Restore the Noble Purpose of Libraries, by William H. Wisner:

I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Wisner, but the Noble Library is dead.

It died when my local library purchased a vinyl copy of the album KC and the Sunshine Band back in 1976. Yes, I agree "Boogie Shoes" is an awesome song, but I have to place the death of the traditional, noble, enlightened library at that ignoble event. Up to then, the library never bought any popular music: no Led Zepellin or Rolling Stones or The Who or David Bowie. There were only albums of Prokofiev, Mozart or the Boston Pops.

And librarians have been dealing with the loss for the last thirty years.

The K├╝bler-Ross Five Stages of Grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. And librarians are smack in the middle of this process.

Some say the Denial stage is still ongoing, but I'm pretty sure it ended around the time your library made you learn about the "23 Things" and "Library 2.0." If creating ten different online accounts and solving the accompanying CAPTCHAs didn't shake you from that initial defensive response, then you're so deluded you probably think The Beatles will still get back together one day (all four of them).

The Anger period lasted all that time you were supposed to build that wiki and tag those images and write in that blog, but didn't, and went back to reading Booklist. Not long at all.

So librarians are currently in the state of Bargaining.

"Please come in and take these DVDs, yeah, check out 50 at a time, more than anyone could ever watch, and if you don't bring them back, we'll charge you a nickel..."

"Have a nap on that furniture. We'll wake you when it's time to go home."

"Leave your children here while you go off to the movies."

"We have cookies."

I sense that Depression isn't far off. As soon as we all realize that the cookies aren't working.

Already some librarians have successfully passed all the way to Acceptance, giving up on calling their workplaces "libraries" and renaming them "community centers." If the Noble Library is dead, embrace that change, they believe. Life begins anew. After all, librarians work for the people, and if the people don't want to better themselves through intellectual pursuits, who are we to keep suggesting they try?

So for now on, when we discuss "the future of libraries," I think the only answer is reincarnation. Accept death, mourn the loss and move on. Trust that the library had a noble and purposeful existence.

And if you're like me, pray that your library is reborn as a strip club.