What are we for?

Well, I have arrived. I have been cited in the current Cites and Insights 😉

The post is all about what libraries are for. Reflecting on Leslie Burger’s plenary at Umbrella 2007, I would like to add the following.

Getting people in is a good thing. Having a lively community feel is excellent. But I still can’t help thinking that if we don’t say clearly why we want people there we will be in trouble.

Libraries must still function as libraries, providing a service not found elsewhere. Libraries are distinctive because they make accessible the products of human imagination, and the people who work there care about that. The environment in which this takes place should be as comfortable and welcoming as possible; and an impromptu party is a wonderful indicator of how people value the space. But if this kind of service becomes the focus, what will be the point of libraries? Why will they be needed instead of other community venues?

I wonder if some of these moves derive from the brittle confidence of the profession. We don’t want to be called librarians, we move away from books… We need to work out what we are for and confidently assert that.

This is not a change resistant position. Rather it is a call not to fetishise change, to not identify change with progress, to be careful as we extend ourselves.

To do all this we need a balanced approach; to know what we should be doing and have a clear idea of why; and we need to know when we can say no. The reasoned ‘No’ is still important.


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