where are the shushing librarians?

So the Guardian published an article about the planned closure of libraries in Yorkshire and that the role of the Library in a community is much bigger than just a repository for books. The amazing thing, I think, about this article is the emotion of the people writing comments. Now, I don’t often read the guardian online, and I read all the comments even less frequently, so I can’t compare this to any other article. But as this article relates to my profession I was intrigued to see the range of responses and amazed by the amount people seemed to care about the issue, on both sides of the debate. Talking to a friend I work with she said that it was unusual for librarians, as a profession, to be the target of such intense dislike, unlike jobs like traffic wardens and estate agents.

But isn’t the great thing about this that so many people care, and seem to care passionately about what libraries do (or don’t do). The worst thing would be indifference. It’s far more difficult to make someone care about something than it is to change their opinion.

The point that struck me about the comments, and the article too, is the underlying assumptions that a library is about paper books and that it’s librarians that shhh and stamp books (or not in some cases). Whilst there has been a real drive within libraries to modernise and move with the times and new technologies available, this doesn’t seem to have made any difference to the mental picture that the majority of people have of a library.

The internet can’t replace a library, just as bookshops haven’t. They are social community hubs as well as providing access to a range of information in different formats. Yes, as one of the commenters said many of the questions asked of a library reference desk are about social care, legal issues, availability of benefits, etc, but couldn’t the same be said of people who go to their constituency MP? And no-ones suggesting cutting them by half because they’ve become irrelevant.

The important thing to remember is the people who need to find answers to these questions and that they are able to do so – putting it all online is only as good for those who are able to find it there. Those who would be most disadvantaged will be the marginalised and minority groups who, for whatever reason, are unable to use the internet. Any discussion of cuts (and I’m not naive enough to think that there won’t be any) has to ensure that the needs of all the different parts of the community are met.

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