Robert Darnton weighs in on libraries, books, and the information age.

After my last post, I was encouraged and pleased to see this piece in the Chronicle by Robert Darnton, Harvard’s university librarian.*  Darnton says a lot of things that I think are absolutely true for many libraries these days.  We’re busy, our chairs are full, we’re more involved in our institutions and communities than ever.  Books aren’t going away anytime soon, though the digital world is on the rise.  The two can coexist.  A very small percentage of what’s published and used for research is available online. Librarians help people find what is there, just as we’ve always helped people find what’s in print.  (We still do that too.)

Or as Darnton puts it (more eloquently than I just did):

A more nuanced view would reject the common notion that old books and e-books occupy opposite and antagonistic extremes on a technological spectrum. Old books and e-books should be thought of as allies, not enemies.

Bottom line:  if a library is getting cut, it’s not because its fundamental services aren’t needed anymore.  The world of information didn’t start suddenly researching and interpreting itself, and delivering itself to untrained searchers in a comprehensible format.  People didn’t wake up knowing how to find census data and copyright-free images.  The need for a space to study, a networked computer, a self-help book, an answer to a question, a kids’ summer reading program–none of that went away.  And chances are very good that nobody else is supplying those needs.

Library for the blind, New York Public Library

*  Thanks to Sarah McDaniel, most awesome Coordinator of Library & Information Literacy Instruction at University of Wisconsin, Madison for sharing this with me.  On Facebook, of course.

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