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wundayatta's avatar

What are libraries for, these days?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) August 2nd, 2012

Ran into a couple of librarians today at work, and we sat around chewing on this question. It was interesting. So I was wondering what jellies think.

With Google, what do libraries add? Once library collections are all on Google, what should librarians do?

I’m particularly interested in the views of those of you who are too young to remember a time before the Internet.

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20 Answers

Mr_Paradox's avatar

Libraries will always exist. Have you ever tried to find a specific research book on the internet. It is almost always impossible. Go to a library and within ten minutes you will most likely have it in hand. Plus, nothing beats the feel of an actual book.

syz's avatar

I have to admit, I don’t really go to the library anymore. But I can’t imagine not having them.

blueiiznh's avatar

Oh nooooo, the great Libray debate lives on. I think you know my feeling based on pouring my heart into this question last year.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

I’m too cheap to buy or even rent dvds.
Plus I hate reading long texts on a screen. I like to physically touch the book and its pages, I’m not a plebeian.

chyna's avatar

^What he said, exactly. I go to the library often.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Every woman I have ever met who majored in Library Science had glasses and was crazy sexy and smart. Non of them actually worked in libraries.

wundayatta's avatar

So a library is a book store, only you get the books for free?

I think I asked the question wrong. What are librarians for?

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Book recommendations? Someone to take out on a date? Someone to berate when you have an overdue book in your inventory and you refuse to pay the fine? Someone to throw books at? I can go on.

I don’t endorse violence against librarians

Pandora's avatar

@wundayatta The books don’t put themselves up on the shelves.
My kids loved going to the library when they were young. There is still some magic about getting to read any book you want for free. I still remember the joy and awe my kids had when I took them to their first library. They had such a hard time deciding what books to take home. But when they realized they could keep coming back they were overjoyed.

silverangel's avatar

the library is like a separate universe with different worlds, each world has its own adventures..

zensky's avatar

Here, libraries are still quite essential in schools. I’ll give but one aspect: kids that write a book report can choose from a limited, but fairly large number of English textbooks. These are graded books and at various levels. They are quite expensive.

wundayatta's avatar

@Pandora Any high school kid who passed Freshman English can shelve books. They’re called shelvers. That’s not why people get library science degrees.

gailcalled's avatar

I hang out at the library often to read The New Yorker, NYT Sunday magazine and local papers. I love my library.

I take out books, Dvds and audio books several times a week. There is a big flood of school kids after school since the library is attached to the local middle school.

There are also many parents with young children checking out mountains of books. People are still reading, at least in my neck of the woods.

Having discovered Terry Pratchett by chance, I am reading, one by one, all 30 of his Discworld novels through my vast interlibrary loan system.

Adagio's avatar

I cannot envisage a day when libraries become obsolete, the romance of holding a book in one’s hands and turning the pages is too strong for that possibility. My memory would be much less rich without delightful memories of visiting the library every week with my daughter and both of us leaving with huge piles of books.

ETpro's avatar

They’re still a great resource for those like me who prefer reading a book in print form rather than on an electronic device. We have a Kindle Fire but neither my wife nor I use it to read books. We’d both far prefer to curl up in a corner with a dead-tree book. I can get virtually any book in print in the world from the Boston Public Library. I may have to wait a while for it to be located and delivered to Boston via the Inter Library Loan system, but it will show up—and it won’t cost me a cent.

Jenniehowell's avatar

No matter where we go there are folks who will use & support the library. The programs & so forth that benefit kids & schools are one thing & then between the hippies trying to stay green & the people who don’t fall into a privileged class so they don’t have computers etc or access to technology in the same way as the privileged who do the library remains relevant.

jca's avatar

I’m in a book group in a library in CT and the people there volunteer in the library and are all really into books. They take books out, talk about the books, etc. They don’t seem to read from i-readers, they are into regular books. They’re mostly retirees. Then there’s me (in the group) who works full time and barely has time to read the one assigned book per month. I blame Fluther for that!

Pandora's avatar

So what you want to know is what do they do that requires them to have a degree. I’ve often wondered that myself.
The only think I can imagine is that they have to run the entire thing like a manager. Know the products and ordered what is needed or most likely to be needed. Run local community fund raisers because it is a non profit organization.
Organize wages, shifts and whatever else a general manager does plus deal with the public, so I won’t be surprise if you have to minor in psychology.

ucme's avatar

The secret whisperers society hold their annual convention there.

wundayatta's avatar

Actually, I was thinking about research librarians—the kind you find at universities.

Lending books for people to read is a different kind of library work. I guess it isn’t competition for Google. Google is about getting information. People tend not to go to local libraries to borrow books in order to get cutting edge information. It’s mostly for entertainment and maybe a little bit for resources. But these days, isn’t it true that the vast majority of people get the answers to their questions from Google, not the local library?

Research libraries help researchers. But mostly researchers can find articles they need through standard database searches. Librarians teach newbies how to use these resources. How to do article searches. They also are constantly on the lookout for new sources of data.

But they are talking about hooking in with Google, so that in the future, all university research libraries will have their databases accessible to everyone on the Internet. If the collections are digitized, then people will be able to get everything: maps, pictures, photos, original editions, microfiche and everything else over the internet.

When this happens, you won’t need a librarian to get stuff for you. You’ll be able to get it for yourself. And at the libraries you guys have been talking about, most of the functions you describe will probably be automated by a computer and some kind of automatic shelving system. We won’t need librarians for that kind of thing. People will check out books themselves with bar code scanners. A lot of people already do that.

When this kind of scut work of moving physical materials around gets automated, what do librarians do?

Do we no longer need them? Or are there more services they can offer that will be useful to researchers or ordinary book borrowers? Will they organize book reading groups? Will they organize author tours? Will they offer classes in how to read for purposes other than pleasure? Will they run cafes?

And what will research librarians do? Assume everyone can get anything they want over the internet. Assume, even, that if you must hold a physical copy in your hands, you can get that if you want to make the trip to the library, but the computer will bring it to you.

What do the people do? How can they help you? What would you like someone to help you do? If you are a researcher, what kind of help would you like? What would make your job easier? What problems do you run into that are a pain in the ass right now? Any problem related to research. Just name it. Don’t edit. Just because you think it isn’t related to a library, throw it out there.

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