Don’t discard the librarians?

A very nice article by Ian Brown in this past Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Don’t discard the librarians.

He very nicely summarizes the recent library/librarian angst that’s been free-flowing around the media and blogosphere over the last little while.

The world of librarians was thrown into a tizzy this week – it doesn’t take much these days – when the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut its school libraries and dump all but four of its library technicians.

*snip*

That was the tip of the iceberg. While Windsor defended its slash, top-level librarians attended a symposium at McMaster University in Hamilton on the future of academic libraries. Discussion whirled around the radical proposals of McMaster’s university librarian, Jeff Trzeciak. Mr. Trzeciak is the mad dog of research librarians: His deeply digital vision is one in which shrunken libraries are staffed not by librarians, but by information technologists and (much cheaper) post-doctoral students. Those aren’t just ideas, either. The University of Denver library recently put 80 per cent of its books in storage.

And so on.

He even makes a nice case for the role of librarians in the future, as good as any such explication I’ve seen in the popular media.

Here is the case for human librarians: You, the information consumer, don’t want to go insane.

*snip*

Librarians know what’s available in a field, where to find it, whether to use it. You, on the other hand, have to write a paper about the self in Hamlet. Try Googling that without the help of a professional librarian: 12.3 million results.

Brown’s performed a very valuable public service in this article, making a case that the information universe isn’t only simpler than it used to be, but it is also in some ways more complicated. And that librarians can play a role in helping people negotiate that complexity.

As David Weinberger so aptly puts it, Remember what it was like to be dumb? Although I guess I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way. I would have said, “Remember what it was like to be ignorant?”

Once upon a time, libraries and librarians concentrated as much on making us less ignorant as they did on making us less dumb.

Now, I think we as librarians have to concentrate on making us all, as individuals and as parts of a larger social context, less dumb.

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A couple of supplemental points. First of all, when you read the Brown article please do take some time to read over the comments. It’s quite a lively “Librarians FTW” vs. “Fire ‘em all and let Google sort ‘em out” debate. Which I think a few commenters have interestingly tied to valuing social vs. commercial aspects of community life.

As well, I’d like to express a fond wish that Brown had gone beyond a such a strong Toronto (particularly a University of Toronto) focus in the preparation of the article, disappointing in a national newspaper but not really that surprising.

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