The Importance of Librarians and Libraries

Libraries are physical repositories of human culture. (Image c/o boltron- on Flickr.

Terry Deary said that ‘libraries have had their day’ and are ‘no longer relevant. As someone who is currently training to be a librarian and works in a highly specialized library I would beg to differ.

I see evidence every day of the value of what I do and even more so of what my Manager does. So firstly lets address what a librarian does. The image of the tweed skirted lady who has finger to her lips saying ‘Shhh!’ is the most common and perhaps the memory of a slightly rumpled and out of touch Rupert Giles (remember him from Buffy?) are the most common images. But let me paint you another image. Someone who is a guide, someone who rather than knowing everything about everything, can tell you where everything is. You can go to Google or Bing and type in your keywords. But do you know which of those results are authentic? Do you know which ‘hits’ are actually the most relevant to you? No. If a librarian is doing his/her job right, you will go in asking for A but you will come out with A2 , by which I mean the information that you wanted plus information about what needed that you didn’t even know existed.  Odds are you’ll come back because ‘You didn’t know we did that’.

There is a human element to a librarian, which no catalogue can ever hope to duplicate. The search engine will provide you tailored information based on what you have asked for. But it cannot replace someone asking, ‘What else are you interested in?’ ‘What skills are you trying to pick up?’ and so on.  Imagine a librarian as a search engine with a heart. Or in the case of where I work, an obsession with Game of Thrones, music and anecdotes about travelling.

However, it would be wrong to assume that all librarians are like this. For the most part librarians are a helpful, inquisitive lot but you do have a few that will give you the book you want and nothing more. Or even worse there are librarians out there who see the new wave of technology and digitization as an enemy that needs to be faced as instead of embraced.  This is wrong, librarians the world over are coming to grips with concepts that wouldn’t be out of place in a start-up ‘How can we engage our customers?’ ‘How can we communicate with them more directly?’ Questions, if not asked mean that libraries will be ‘no longer relevant.’

What about the library itself?  ‘A blockbuster for books’ is the most unflattering comment I’ve heard lately. Most local libraries have cottoned on to the fact that they can provide more than ‘book lending’ service. But some haven’t and insist supplying curating books that are out of date and not publicizing the new stock that they do have.

Libraries have the potential to be hubs of learning for the entire community. Story-time for children? Check out your local library. Don’t have a computer at home but want to go online? Have a wander down to your local library; they’ll probably have a couple of terminals that are for public use, and probably a printer too. I’ve heard of MPs using local libraries as clinics and as a way to get in touch with their constituents. In a larger library, how about using the computer hubs as opportunities to help people with their IT skills? Even more recently libraries are introducing a gaming section complete with Wii and games so children who may not have consoles at home have a chance to have a play.

Apart from the physical uses of a library, what about their contents? A library contains fiction, non-fiction and often historical and technical books. In short they are physical repositories of human culture. I don’t deny that the Internet has the same title, but websites can be deleted, you can’t ‘delete’ a book (Dictators the world over have tried, doesn’t really work).

Libraries show us the past and as far as they can prepare us for the future and it’s a shame that Governments and Councils are unable to see that. In a community that may not have much in the way of resources a library is often the source of solace for people – a place to read the paper, a place to gather and foster relationships and even a place to hide and immerse yourself in the adventures of others (I know that I did the latter when I was a teenager).  So much as the librarian is the guide, the library is the gateway. If we lose both of these things, our society will have lost something precious that we will feel in the years to come.

Bio: Natasha S. Chowdory is a Masters student for the second time. Takes pictures of clouds (because they’re amazing) and devours YA books like it’s the end of the world – also loves fantasy novels with strong female leads. Dreams of going into space one day because it’s the final frontier. Collects postcards because they’re like snapshots into other countries and lives.

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Librarians and Libraries

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  3. Kate Mensah

    Natasha, I completly concur with your post and sincerely hope that more is done to raise awareness of the incredible contribution libraries make to all sections of the society. My fear is that the impending closures will have a detrimental effect on young people who may not have easy access to books at home. I regularly take my 2 year old daughter to the local library, despite the fact she has a lovely little book collection of her own, as she enjoys choosing and reading new stories and I feel that she benefits in many other ways. Many thanks and keep up the good work!

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  4. PSP Ltd

    How true. Libraries are essentially buildings with books in; their true value lies in the knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of the librarians. A fact all too often overlooked in the clamour for service efficiencies and budgetary restraints.

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