The recent LA Times article, Libraries reinvent themselves as they struggle to remain relevant in the digital age, as well as Michael Gorman’s much-discussed comments – specifically, “If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries” has me thinking about this so-called “struggle” libraries are facing.
First of all, I would not call it a “struggle.” Everywhere I look, there are examples of thriving libraries. Library use is up with the current economic downturn. But I won’t bore you with those oft-cited libraries, they are easy to find.
Here are two reasons I believe libraries are not struggling, and why I believe they will stay relevant:
1. People need help wading through the glut of information. I was explaining to my husband the other day about something we learn in library school – precision vs. recall in searches. Recall in a search will give you everything available on a topic, while a precise search filters out non-relevant items, giving the searcher fewer results to chose from. In this Google reliant world, most people are searching with only recall in place, resulting in page upon page of possible sites matching ones search terms. How do we decide what to click on, how can we perfect our searches? Which leads me to number 2.
2. Information literacy. People will always need help learning what information is reliable, how to craft a search, how to use a database, and so on. In the digital age, this is more important than ever. For one example, a colleague of mine recently performed a search on Google, and the first link that showed up was for encyclopediadramatica, a joke site, but one that looks exactly like Wikipedia. Librarians and teachers may frown on Wikipedia, but I assure you, the information on Wikipedia is far more accurate than encyclopediadramatica. Yes, it is a joke (a distasteful joke at that), and pretty obvious once you start reading the entries, but the fact that it so closely resembles Wikipedia is disturbing. Librarians (and teachers) should be teaching patrons (and students) what can be deemed reliable information and what should be ignored.
There are many other aspects of information literacy, and it is something I am quite passionate about. Technology is all around us, in the “digital age” libraries are “struggling” in and staying relevant is all about embracing technology. After all, as Robert Putnam says, “No longer a passive repository of books and information or an outpost of culture, quiet, and decorum in a noisy world, the new library is an active and responsive part of the community and an agent of change.” And I say that libraries are doing an exceedingly good job, not struggling at all.
PS – Really, I think that the media is “struggling” with new stories to come up with, but that is a whole other can of worms.