[iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?
Jessica F. Lingel
jlingel at eden.rutgers.edu
Wed Jun 29 16:32:33 UTC 2011
Advance warning: this response is link-heavy, because I'm a librarian, and thus can't help providing sources.
As a concept, librarians are pretty trendy right now (if SXSW says so, it must be true:http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/sxsw-2011-the-year-of-the-librarian/72548/). Anecdotally, although the number of library programs seems to be stabilizing after years of shallow decline, enrollment numbers seem to be increasing. Whatever people think the library is, there's no shortage of people who (think they) want to work there.
The popular press periodically returns to issues of librarians and libraries, sometimes framing it in terms of a newly emergent generation of librarians defying conventional stereotypes (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/fashion/08librarian.html, which is interestingly housed in the fashion section), sometimes phrasing it as co-extensive with the demise of publishing (e.g. http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/09/04/a_library_without_the_books/) sometimes (especially in a recession) in terms of economics (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/06/26/are-school-librarians-expendable?scp=8&sq=do%20we%20need%20school%20libraries&st=cse, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123197709459483585.html, http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2010/april2010/soalr_pio.cfm, http://chicagopressrelease.com/news/recession-drives-more-americans-to-libraries-in-search-of-employment-resources-but-funding-lags-demand).
Rolf's question, though, is about what a future for public libraries might look like. In the US, where there's a particular history of the library as a place that instills the ethics and values of the local community, I think we'll continue to see an emphasis on library as community space. As a public institution, the library has come to be romanticized on a number of nostalgic fronts, including a pre-digital era and a time of deeply personal growth (http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/may/18/country-without-libraries/) as well as a Habermasian third space for interpersonal connections (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/01/the-secret-life-of-libraries).
Personally, I'm interested in the outcroppings of libraries that are shot through with both DIY and decidedly artistic strains, such as the Reanimation Library (http://reanimationlibrary.org), the Public Library of American Public Library Deaccession (http://deaccession.org), the Prelinger Library (http://prelingerlibrary.org/), the Interstital Library (http://www.ineradicablestain.com/interstitiallibrary/) and others. Is this at all a response to calls for participatory media enacted as participatory archives? Librarians have been very interested in possibilities for participatory metadata (http://alatechsource.metapress.com/content/q10675304x474v82/), but I don't think they anticipated a fascination with entire libraries being built to house weird (for lack of a better term) texts, typically outside the purview of most public library collections.
> Date: Wed Jun 29 03:40:22 EDT 2011
> From: "Rolf Hapel" <hapel at aarhus.dk>
> Subject: [iDC] Is there a future for the pubklic libraries?
> To: "idc at mailman.thing.net" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Hi everyone,
> I am so thrilled to be part of the Mobility Shift event in October.
> Until then, I am busy with my job, being a practitioner working to transform an institution regarded as one of the most crucial societal icons of the modern, developed democratic societies. I am talking about the public library, an institution dear to many, if not most people. I sometimes get a little sweaty, though, thinking about the future. Some predictions tend to kill the public libraries - at least as a vehicle for distribution of knowledge - together with the printed book in a relatively short term, e.g. 2020. Others predict a more social role for the libraries as public open spaces characterized by values that makes it welcoming for all. Others again see the public library as a possible open center for informal learning.
> I wonder, if any of you guys have any thoughts on the subject of the public library. Can you see any functions for the public library as we know it in a future where e-books and digitization have changed the formats for knowledge and culture distribution and exchange totally?
> If so - to which problems in the knowledge based, networked society do you see the public library as a possible answer?
> Rolf Hapel
> [cid:image001.gif at 01CC363B.694F5940]
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