Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Library Without Books

If you were to go to Emerson School right now you would see the room that was and is to be the library/media center looking very different than it did just two weeks ago. The carpet is gone. The walls that were the tech office are gone. The bathrooms at the top of the stairs are gone. Even the big, ugly heating pipes are gone.

Those of us who have know Emerson since it first was built at its current site see something vaguely familiar because this is how that space looked some 25 years ago. The current library area was once the common space in the middle of the school with classrooms opening out onto it. At the far end one can now see the raised area where classes used to sit to have a group picture taken. It brings back memories. (Since that time, this space has served many purposes, including being the gymnasium before becoming the library.)

For me, it has also stirred a more recent memory from when I was applying to library schools. I went to a local open house of the Information Science department. It was one speaker there, someone in the library education division, who convinced me to go elsewhere for my degree. She boldly and proudly stated her dream of having every library go virtual. "Imagine," she said, "Imagine a library where you are never bothered by people directly asking you questions. Imagine a library that is never dirtied by the muddy feet of noisy children." That is about when I started closing her out.

This interaction at a library school open house kept me away from some of the technologies far longer than it should have as I protected myself from what this woman predicted was right around the corner. (I was not going to be the one who opened the door that final crack to let virtual libraries take over the world. Read Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson to read a somewhat fictionalized account of how much power librarians, especially in a virtual state, could have. It's a great summer --or any time--read for grades four and up.)

My reasons for wanting work in a library would list noisy children and helping answer questions right at the top. I don't even mind muddy shoes all that much, though maybe that will change with new carpets in the the library. I want real children and real people with real questions frequenting the library. There are many things that the virtual world can do and does quite well but I am optimistic that we there will be no serious attempts to take face-to-face interactions out of the picture. People need to hold some books in their hands but more importantly they need to have another human being sharing those books with them. When there is a reference question or a reading suggestion, how nice to have a person in the flesh there to interact immediately. Yes, you can "Google" something and find lots of answers. Better yet, you can go to a respected data base and get more information. What a librarian does--or is supposed to do--is help you work out your question so that you know what to ask the Internet or data base in the first place. For pleasure reading, the personal is even more preferable. No computer to my knowledge can see the twinkle in your eye when a suggestion hits target or the polite shrug that indicates that the discussion has wandered down the wrong track.

Emerson's library is getting many improvements this summer. Right now it is a bare space but soon the wall will be up and then carpeting will reappear. The shelves will move in. Then I will get the books back out for everyone to enjoy and I will be there to answer questions, suggest a good book, and put the solid paper and paste of that book into waiting hands.

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