“When two tribes go to war”

Two stereotypes enter. One stereotype leaves. Welcome to The Public Library Dome….

In one corner, Libraries Are About Books. The key is the brand, books are the brand, diluting the brand will destroy libraries through lack of focus.

In the other corner, Books Are The Past The Brand is Information and Exchange. The key is change, change is social computing, resisting change will destroy libraries through irrelevance.

Both positions find support amongst librarians; not all librarians subscribe to the Library 2.0 model, as an example. Both positions have some merit. But as extremes, they have the problem of polarising ‘debates.’

Is there a ‘middle ground’ to be found. Walt Crawford thinks so, and I agree on this. But what does this middle look like?

Well, I think it takes its character from a careful consideration of the new, alongside an honest appraisal of existing systems. It takes time to adopt new things, not because it is change resistant, but because it has a duty to its public as a whole. And because of that duty it does look into new services, such as digital libraries and social computing.

Books play a role in the Library of the Middle. They are a key part of the public library brand; currently they have the widest acceptance and will continue to do so for some time. Any attack on books is seen as an attack on the library ideal, and aside from the virtues of books we cannot afford to alienate so many people. More money needs to be spent, more efficiently, on a good, attractively presented bookstock.

Qualified staff play a role, but this is not to say that the routes to qualification do not need examining (no pun intented.) Experience in non-library areas should be recognised, but so should the need for recognised library training and qualifications.

Digital resources must play a role. Increasingly people are used to this mode of access, and materials are more and more commonly issued digitally. Social computing is here to stay and offers libraries new ways to communicate with their users. Librarians should not necessarily be the innovators in this field, but there should be clear leadership in public libraries which supports ventures such as LibraryThing, Revish et al.

Above all there should be a move from the sterile oppositions which bedevil discussions around libraries. We can have both books and digital; continuity and change; the old and the new.

Discernment in the face of change.

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3 Responses to “When two tribes go to war”

  1. Miriam Palfrey says:

    Are there really so many from either of these camps within libraries?

    I know of some people who are a little wary of anythign IT based and some who would always make the internet a first prot of call but to be honest, the only people I have met putting forward either of these perspectives were library users rather than staff.

  2. Pete says:

    Well, Miriam, as I say they are stereotypes and therefore extremes; though I have come across near variants of both positions amongst librarians, as well as patrons.

  3. Good post (but you knew I’d say that). And, Miriam, on this side of the pond there certainly are librarians who seem to dismiss books as old hat–and, yes, others who dismiss change as irrelevant. Most people are closer to the middle, but the middle tends to lack clear spokespeople. I think “Slow Library” may change that. Perhaps.

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