Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Library as Dehumanized Supermarket?

Early this morning I read an article almost as gray and ominous as the weather. John N. Berry's column, posted in the February 15 on line version of Library Journal is entitled The Vanishing Librarian, The library becomes a dehumanized supermarket or a chaotic bookstore. After careful consideration I will describe it as a jeremiad on the "deskilling" of library jobs, the replacement of professionals with less skilled and less well compensated staff, and the wholesale transformation of libraries from humane, differentiated centers of learning and education to indistinguishable, impersonal "cookie-cutter" facilities reminiscent of standardized big box chain stores or mega-groceries. I took a quick mental assessment of our library, and then did a quick tour to reassure myself that this did not describe the Otis Library. I am satisfied that it does not. I cannot envision some of the more execrable innovations described by Mr. Berry, specifically the banishing of the reference desk, the displacement of the circulation desk in favor of self-serve check out stations, and the outsourcing of materials selection. Otis was designed as a community centered library, and these trends, if that is what they are, run counter to the spirit of service embodied in this library. Please let it always remain thus!


Cal said...

I think it is an uphill battle. We want self service check-out at the grocery store and at the bank. Why not the library?

I will give you one reason. At the store and at the bank we are greeted by folks who are simply checking us out. They have little interest in our taste in food or how much we have in our bank account. Most of the time we are glad they don't know too much about our business.

At the library it is different. We are among kindred spirits. I relish stopping in and chatting with the librarian at the desk. Not only can he or she make good recommendations on my next read, but we can also chat about the last one. I come away feeling that the person I met at the counter actually enjoys their job and is happy to see me.

So maybe there is hope after all. The hope remains as long as we keep asking for it and demanding that our Executive Directors give us live people at the gate.


Amanda B said...

I think there is room for compromise in all areas of the library model. If you would like it to be a community oriented, you need to try to serve all of your population.

In today's society instant gratification is demanded in all venues of service. In my own library-land observations, I have seen families gravitate toward the self-check out. Why? Maybe because the library is one in a long list of "errands" a double income family must perform (and really doesn't know why their three-year-old picked that moment to have a melt down). Or maybe renewing the book on the computer is not because they are lazy, it is because their car broke down. But they are services for an ever changing society.

Reference services are also a tricky business. How much is too much? I have shown various patrons how to print, copy, search, research, find book, articles, navigate the OPAC, etc. some people would rather do it on their own, or they figure they will just Google it. (Others would like it if you would write their paper for them)!

Personally, as Cal said in the previous response, I love getting good book reviews from the librarian. If anything, I will always leave the library with items I had not even thought of due to a suggestion from one of the staff. But public libraries serve a varied population and must adjust with the time.

Do I think that librarians are being phased out? I hope not or there goes my job plans, but I do think they need to be as diverse as possible and keep up with what works and get rid of things that don't.

I believe that a majority of people that work in libraries generally like people and books and enjoy facilitating bringing the two together.

Some patron's think of the library as an "errand", while others think of it as a "destination", if the public library can continue to serve both populations, librarians and libraries will survive.