Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why we still need libraries

“Everything is on the Internet these days isn’t it?”

 “All I have to do is a quick Google search, or use Wikipedia, and I get the information I need”

“The printed word is dying”
AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!! *face palm*. In the space of the last month or so all of the above has been said to me in my day job as a school librarian. And boy is it depressing.

So you think everything you need is on the internet do you? Well, I’ll assume you know that a lot of information on the internet is unregulated, unchecked and could as easily have been uploaded by the deranged guy next to you on the bus with a food crumb beard and an aroma of butterscotch and wee, as a brainbox professor in microcosmolinguistdadabotanology. So you know that not all websites are to be trusted, right? Well, if you think that you can still find all the stuff you need on the Internet then you couldn’t be more wrong my friend.

Not every book can be found on Google books, not every single one of the millions of blog posts (like this one), e-mails or audio visual resource in existence today is guaranteed to be here tomorrow. Stuff vanishes all the time: how many times have you seen a message on the Internet that says ‘the URL you are looking for does not exist’, or words to that effect? More often than a book you’d been hoping to get has gone out of print, I expect. A lot of stuff is safeguarded and protected (e.g. official Government webpages), but almost all high quality, academic, peer reviewed material is on the ‘hidden Internet’. You can’t just access an online version of the 1985 periodical of the Annals of Human Biology for nothing you know. No, you need to be a member of a subscribing body for that. And lo and behold, that subscribing body is very often your library.

Libraries, be they of the public, school, academic, legal or ‘special’ nature (did you know you can get, for example, Cathedral libraries?) are a service, not a room. They’re not static warehouses full of books. Well, they are, but that’s not all they are. They can guide you through the overwhelming, often baffling, vastness of the Internet to help you reach the sacred turf of information and knowledge you can trust (ever heard of this for instance?). Your local public library will lay on value-added services, like homework clubs, adult education classes and employment information for jobseekers. The heartbeat of your community in other words, and they want to close them down…?
As many a writer will tell you, it’s important for publishing standards to remain high in this digital age when self-publishing is getting easier. Many a librarian will tell you that the standards we set ourselves as independent, lifelong learners are every bit as crucial, if not more so. We live in the instant gratification age, where people (not least school students) think everything can be discovered with a click of a mouse button, and don’t properly engage with the information they’re researching. The need for libraries, run by properly qualified librarians, is actually greater than ever. So every time a library closes, it’s a damning indictment on those cultural values we hold dear.  


  1. I don't live in the UK, Joe, and the main thing I miss are libraries. Whenever I'm back home, the huge, magnificent library in Norwich is the first stop on my itinerary. It's also a frustrating experience because although I'm allowed to browse and consult, I can't take any of those wonderful tomes away with me (of course). My own research here is mostly done on Google (because Portugal's libraries are few and far between) but when I'm in the Norwich one I'm amazed at how easy it is to find what I'm looking for. Google isn't as easy as it looks - it gives you the results it wants to give, and not necessarily the one I want, I reckon.

  2. I'm very sorry to hear you have a library shaped void where you are now :-( You are absolutely right about Google: how can you distinguish the good stuff from the bad when a search returns you 2 million hits? That's where the online resources your library subscribes to comes in.

    And when it comes to researching something in depth, you can usually find what you're looking for in books far more easily than you can on the Web anyway...