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!