Friday, September 3, 2010

The sun will come out.... tomorrow...

I don't know what to do about libraries. On the one hand, libraries are still doing some amazing things, but on the other, libraries are cutting staff to continue doing it.

Librarians have lost their jobs, but the business of libraries goes on. Is it enough to advocate for libraries while accepting the loss of librarians?

Librarians are professionals. We organize data and materials into useful collections. We archive that data for current and future library users. We attempt to establish some cataloging authority so that person A and person B can find information regardless of how they begin their search.

We don't put all the Education books in the front of the library in August and then move them to the back in October just because more people might want them when school begins. A book store might do this, but libraries don't. The books remain where they belong so that anyone can find them whenever they might choose to look.

But does anyone care that we do this? Some cities have thousands of restaurants, so they require lots of chefs to prepare the cuisine, but some places only have fast food joints, so any kid can drop the fries into hot oil. Maybe librarians need to get away from those places that only want to eat fries. But is all that fast food really good for you?

I believe that conditions will improve. I believe that libraries will become stronger. But I'm not so sure that stronger libraries will guarantee that more librarians will find more of those dream jobs. Or any job that requires their expertise.

The problem with being a librarian is that you can't really do it yourself. You can't open a private library down the street as you would if you were a dentist or an accountant. I don't know any librarian with a business card that reads, "Have Books, Will Travel."

Or maybe the librarian travels from town to town with a laptop performing Internet searches for people in exchange for a night in the barn and a slice of peach pie. And that's how we'll survive, leaving librarian chalk signs for each other about which towns are librarian friendly and which ones google everything and will run you out of town on sight.

My first clue that something could be wrong with the profession came in library school when I learned about the "give 'em what they want" philosophy. My thought was, if all I have to do is give people what they want, then why the hell am I learning all this crap and getting this degree?

The profession seems to be sinking. Maybe not the whole profession, but research and archiving and cataloging and acquisitions parts. There will probably always be a place for Children's librarians. But for everyone else, the conventions are still going where some celebrity tell a heart-warming story about a childhood love of books, and some futurist says that librarians need to evolve to survive and we applaud and cheer without realizing that 99 percent of evolution involves extinction.

It's like we're on the Titanic and we're trying to keep the people left on board, the ones without access to a life boat, entertained while the ship is going down:
I spy with my little eye... something that begins with W.

Is it water?

Yes. But don't just jump in with the answer like that. Ask a question. String it out a little.

Okay, next one. I spy with my little eye... something that begins with I.

Is it iceberg?
I get depressed when so many people seem to associate quality libraries with an extensive book collection, and not so many people mention how important the librarian is to that collection. It's like everyone feels that they can just do it themselves.

So I value my library degree. If libraries continue to hire librarians based on that sheet of paper, then at least that cuts the pool of job applicants down somewhat.

I think most people would agree that librarians have skills, but they probably wouldn't agree on just how important those skills are. Maybe I'm like some awesome cooper. How many barrels does anyone really need?

So to all the librarians still looking, I think things will get better. But since I have a job, I guess I have the luxury of feeling that way. But on the bright side, people are not getting smarter. They fall for the most obvious scams on Facebook and give out their personal information after clicking on those PayPal account verification emails. So they need us. They don't want us for what we've been trained to do, but they need us to help them when they fuck up. Which they will, daily.

But I will keep you in my thoughts and whenever I have to make decisions that could endanger the librarian's future in the profession, like the one I'm making now about hiring some robots to replace our librarians, I will do everything in my power to argue for the human librarian.

But, man, those robots are so awesome and they don't ever take breaks.