So as many of you know I work in a library. Mostly, it’s older women and men and they all like mysteries. But lately, Ocean at the End of the Lane has been circulating through them all like crazy. Everyone got the book. I wasn’t really sure why and I never really got to talk to any of them so I didn’t get to find out why.
But today one of the semi-regulars came in and returned it. I was excited and I asked her if she read it. She replied.
"I did. Did you?"
"Oh yes." I said. "He’s one of my favorite authors. But tell me honestly how you liked it."
"It’s the weirdest book I have ever read."
I was a little sad. But then she handed me her card. I grabbed the two holds off the shelf for her and noticed they were Stardust and Anasi Boys.
"Are all of his books this weird?"
"Every single one of them."
She seemed pleased.
I think I won.
For most of the human race, pretty much all of the lifespan of the human race, information was currency. Information was like gold. It was rare, it was hard to find, it was expensive. You could get your information, but you had to know where to go, you had to know what you were looking at, you had to know how to find your information. It was hard. And librarians were the key players in the battle for information, because they could go and get and bring back this golden nugget for you, the thing that you needed.
Over the last decade, which is less than a blink of an eye in the history of the human race, it’s all changed. And we’ve gone from a world in which there is too little information, in which information is scarce, to a world in which there is too much information, and most of it is untrue or irrelevant. You know, the world of the Internet is the world of information that is not actually so. It’s a world of information that just isn’t actually true, or if it is true, it’s not what you needed, or it doesn’t actually apply like that, or whatever. And you suddenly move into a world in which librarians fulfill this completely different function.
We’ve gone from looking at a desert, in which a librarian had to walk into the desert for you and come back with a lump of gold, to a forest, to this huge jungle in which what you want is one apple. And at that point, the librarian can walk into the jungle and come back with the apple. So I think from that point of view, the time of librarians, and the time of libraries—they definitely haven’t gone anywhere.—
And I stand by every word of it.
Why Libraries Again…?
"I’ve spent the past year and a half of my life in library school, and about three years before that working in some capacity in rural, suburban, and urban libraries, and currently I’m currently at a cross-road in terms of whether or not I want to work in public libraries. There’s a constant state of fear and malaise among the professors, the guest speakers, and the students – a constant question that we, the students, get asked is “so, uh, do you guys have any ideas?”
"Undoubtedly libraries are a good thing. The access and training that we provide for technology isn’t offered by any other public service (largely because public services are rapidly becoming a dirty word in this gilded age of decadence and austerity), and without our services it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be a significant dimming.
"If you can take yourself out of your first world techie social media smart-shoes for a second then imagine this: you’re 53 years old, you’ve been in prison from 20 to 26, you didn’t finish high school, and you have a grandson who you’re now supporting because your daughter is in jail. You’re lucky, you have a job at the local Wendy’s. You have to fill out a renewal form for government assistance which has just been moved online as a cost saving measure (this isn’t hypothetical, more and more municipalities are doing this now). You have a very limited idea of how to use a computer, you don’t have Internet access, and your survival (and the survival of your grandson) is contingent upon this form being filled out correctly.
"Do you go to the local social services office? No, you don’t. The overworked staff there says that due to budget cuts they can no longer do walk-in advising, and that there’s a 2 week waiting list to get assistance with filling out forms. You call them up on the by-the-minute phone you’re borrowing from your cousin (wasting 15 of her minutes on hold) and they say that they can’t help, but you can go to your public library. OK, so you go to your public library after work (you ask your other cousin to watch your grandson for the day since wasting those minutes has temporarily burned some bridges). Due to budget cuts the library no longer has evening hours, sorry, try again (and you also don’t get back the bus-fare or money you spent on a hack to get across town to the nearest branch, since other budget cuts closed the one in your neighborhood). OK, so you come back on the weekend. You ask the overworked librarian at the desk to sign up for a computer. She testily tells you that you’re at the wrong desk, and that sign-ups are at circulation. You feel foolish and go over to the circulation desk, who tells you that you need to sign up for a library card to use the computer. After filling out the forms the librarian starts to make your card for you, and informs you that she can’t process a card, since you have fines from 2 years ago that total fifty dollars. It’s an emergency, you say, you need to use the computer. She sighs heavily, informs you that it’s against policy, and then prints a guest pass anyway. You get 30 minutes at a time for a total of 2 hours per day. Computers are on the second floor.
"You go up to the second floor to find a total of 20 computers with a waiting list of 15 people. You do some quick math in your head, and realize you’re probably going to be here for a while, so you walk over to the magazine section, and read People while you wait. Finally, it’s your turn. You walk over to your terminal, and your time starts ticking. Your breath seizes in your chest, and you realize you have no idea what to do. You have the form that they gave you at the social services office, which has an address, which you sort of know what that does, but you can’t quite remember – 17 minutes, by the way. You try typing X City Social Services in a box at the top, a page comes back and says “address not found” with a list of things below it. You’re panicking, because there’s a line forming (there always is) and the library will probably close before you can make it back on – 10 minutes, by the way. After a little more fumbling and clicking you have no luck, you’re kicked off, and immediately someone is standing behind you to use your computer. You relinquish your seat, and head back down stairs. You’re about to leave, already trying to think of who you know who has a computer who might let you use it, and might know about filling out these forms, but the only person you can think of is your friend in the county, and taking a bus out there would be awfully expensive.
"Before leaving you decide to try one last thing. You go up to the desk, and explain your situation. The tired, overworked person at the desk nods along, and says, “well, we’re not supposed to do this, but…” and tells you to walk around the desk. With a few clicks on the mouse they have the site up that you spent 30 minutes trying to find. They bring up the electronic form, politely turn their head aside as you fill in your social security number, and then ask you a series of questions to satisfy the demands of the form. It comes to your email address, and you have to admit that you don’t have one, so the librarian walks you through setting up a free one and gives it to you on a slip of paper. “We have free computer classes,” he says (and you’re lucky, because a great deal of public libraries don’t), but you look at the times and realize that between your job and taking care of your grandson you’d never be able to attend, and it’d probably be too hard anyway. You thank him, and he smiles, and you leave. Congratulations, you’ve staved off disaster until the next time you need to use a computer for a life-essential task.
"Now let’s start that again, but this time you don’t speak English. Just kidding, I don’t want to give you too much culture shock in one day."
Ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library program.
Every child in America deserves access to an effective school library program. We ask that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provide dedicated funding to help support effective school library programs. Such action will ensure more students have access to the resources and tools that constitute a 21st century learning environment. Reductions in school library programs are creating an ‘access gap’ between schools in wealthier communities versus those where there are high levels of poverty. All students should have an equal opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to learn, to participate, and to compete in today’s world. —
The librarians need 11,000 more signatures on this petition…