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Libraries, and those who Love Them

For decades, the institutions (or the Institution) called libraries have suffered gradual loss of support from their communities, and their sources of funding.  Initially, libraries were collections of books, for the benefit of those who could not afford their own copies of important books.  Often, libraries were the nucleus of universities (even if the university was not built around the library, at least the university considered its library--or libraries--the symbolic nucleus of the institution), and many other institutions have at their center a library, for example the US Office of Patents and Trademarks.

There are many obvious reasons why the use of libraries is in decline.

People do not read very much anymore.  Even if they do, they don't all read the same books; at one time, there were the important books everyone had to read; today, one reads what one likes, and there is simply such a variety of books being published that the annual acquisition process for the library is become a great gamble.

People are also reading online, and reading e-books.  Once, too, the trend of making movies out of works of fiction became common, we never needed to read anymore; even more convenient than reading the Cliff's Notes, we could watch the movie.

Some of the greatest books were written at least fifty years ago, and while some modern authors are inclined to improve on them, some of those classics can simply not be improved upon.  The authors writing today are no less capable than their predecessors, but the sheer volume of literary output can be expected to result in the best of the new books to be a smaller proportion compared to the whole.  Self-publishing is now common, further aggravating the problem.  (I myself use a self-published book to teach out of, which is used only at my institution.)  Entropy has reared its ugly head, and those who have loved books forever, and librarians, and teachers of literature, are all up in arms, opposing the trend towards decline of libraries.  My faceBook news-feed is full of desperate pro-library propaganda.  On top of everything, Government support for libraries has declined, along with every other good thing that the government should support, but doesn't.  It's almost as if our representatives are saying, We've read the books; the rest of ye find other things to do.

Alongside the libraries which are in survival mode, are the librarians.  Training of librarians initially had to expand, to include use of Internet-related resources: databanks that were accessible online (and some of them only online), volumes only available at select libraries, but deliverable to clients via network, and searchable indexes.  These are all things that computers made possible, and librarians are highly knowledgeable front-ends to these information services.

But of course, as libraries come under pressure to defend themselves, so do librarians.  But at least part of the hostility of librarians is directed towards e-books; essentially a piece of data which is an electronic version of a book, sold or made available for free by various sources, such as the Gutenberg Project, which is in the process of making available electronically every book that has gone into the public domain.  Once the process of transforming all books into e-books nears completion, they feel, their jobs will be in jeopardy.

I cannot be the only one who believes that the jobs of librarians are not as much in jeopardy as they fear.  Certainly, paper books are going to be far fewer in number.  Some books will continue to be triumphantly paper: children's books, picture-books, such as collectors' books for such image-oriented items as record-sleeves, or fashion magazines, or comic-books, or even books on automotive repair, or even any sort of repair (though a lot of support for do-it-yourself repair is coming to us through video).  But librarians have been adept at delivering strategies for locating the help their clients need, and one can expect that to continue.

But if most fiction becomes available electronically, I don't think that it a tragedy, and certainly not from the point of view of the landfills.  I regard my own collection of books with horror; eventually most of them will definitely have to be put in a landfill, since no one in my family, or among my acquaintances, are interested in some of the older books.

However, for things to be ideal, we simply have to get away from our modern tendency to throw away our electronic devices.  (This is not going to happen under the current leadership, but one can always hope . . .)  The thought of every pen available being a disposable item, every camera, every telephone, every TV set: they all get thrown in the landfill.  I have a tablet that I used as a e-book reader, and I see no option but to throw it out, because it cannot be upgraded; obsolescence appears to be built in.  American Industry, which triumphantly ushered in the modern industrial age, has also guaranteed that the single business that will not be at all under threat is the trash business.

This post first appeared on I Could Be TOTALLY Wrong, But ..., please read the originial post: here

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Libraries, and those who Love Them


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